Jeff's Reviews

Thoughts on every movie I've ever seen.

Roma (2018)

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón

Starring Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta


The backdrop of the film is a turbulent 1970’s Mexico City, and Cuarón captures it with incredible authenticity. Courageously long takes and courageously wide shots give us a voyeuristic, unflinching experience in this world.

Roma may be one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen, with a rich variety of location sets and some truly magnificent photography. Every shot is framed perfectly, every scene is exposed perfectly, with perfect pans and dollies and Steadicam and an expert touch following focus. The untrained eye may not appreciate the subtleties of this cinematography, but it really is something special. I was unaware of the digital effects that were necessary for some of the shots, the work is seamless and masterful. That Cuarón took over as cinematographer and shot the film himself is an amazing testament to his artistic vision and technical craftsmanship.

And there’s no score whatsoever. The only thing filling the long takes are the natural sounds of life, household, and and city. The sounds make each scene as authentic as it can possibly be.

Early on, it’s tempting to write this off as yet another “slide of life” film, given that there is little in terms of manipulative, structured, familiar storytelling. The long takes, meandering scenes, no score, and lack of an overall story arc make it seem like there is not much going on. But don’t be fooled. The meandering scenes and chaos of life make things seem loose and blurry, but by the end, it’s clear that some of these characters do have their own arcs and have taken a real journey. Several times, unexpectedly, I was moved to tears. And then, just as in life, there’s a subtle bit of humor just around the corner.

Somehow, Cuarón was able to coax entirely believable and courageous performances out of mostly unknown actors. Everyone, from Cleo to her employers to the kids to the doctors, is completely devoted to Cuarón’s vision. I don’t know how he did it.

In summary, the film is an unflinching, raw, cruel, sentimental look at the lives of a small group of people in Mexico City. It’s beautiful to look at, the characters are real, and their journeys are moving. That final shot is perfect. And the way the credits roll over it is even more perfect.