Roma ★★★★½

Afterthoughts: Alfonso is back, and he’s done it again!

Roma is one of those rare films that the minute you start watching it, you’re aware it’s going to be something of a quiet masterpiece, and that’s not just because of the universal praise it’s received by critics and audiences alike. The opening shot, which places the static camera looking down at a tiled floor for a sustained period of time as it is being cleaned by soapy water, immediately tells us that Cuarón is going to take his time with this one; that he’s going to let this story unfold and these characters develop in the most seemingly organic and uncontrived manner possible.

Although the nature of the resolute flawlessness of Cuarón’s digital camera and its highly controlled placements, movements and monochrome colour contradict the above passage in terms of naturalism, Roma feels 100% authentic because its writer-director appears to want to show nothing but the truth about a time and a place he knows from first-hand experience. I wasn’t aware until this morning that the film is semi-autobiographical about Cuarón’s upbringing in Colonia Roma, Mexico City, but I felt it must have been due to how personal and specific the film feels. Coming from a filmmaker whose last three films (spanning a 15 year period) include the best Harry Potter film, a brilliant dystopian thriller, and an immersive, nail-biting space exploration film, Roma is a beautiful and rare example of a renowned director who could get any project he wants taking a step back to make something deeply personal and small scale.

Roma cost an estimated $15million to make, so when comparing that to the budget of Gravity, estimated between $100-130million, that’s an incredible test of his metal as a filmmaker and as a person, and of his stance as a visionary artist that makes films because it’s in him and he needs to, not because it makes him big bucks. While we’re on the topic of Gravity, I was already aware that from an early age Cuarón wanted to be either a filmmaker or an astronaut. So when I saw that scene when Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio, who is amazing – what a find) goes to the cinema to see Marooned (1969) and Gene Hackman is slowly drifting towards Earth away from the spacecraft and the other astronaut is trying to save him, I instantly thought “Yes! This is where Gravity came from”. I looked up Cuarón’s birth year to see how old he would have been at the time, and he was 9 or 10, and it made me feel a bit emotional knowing that decades later he got to make one of the finest space films of all time (I know it has its critics, but get a grip, it’s a brilliant film), and seeing that a film had made such an impression on him.

This also actually made me realise that Roma very much feels like a story viewed through a child’s eyes (and that invisible child is Alfonso himself); a curious voyeur’s point of view that is constantly learning about his/her world and attempting to understand it. Most of what we learn about the characters and the time period is only hinted at or alluded to, or occurring in the background, and is often happening offscreen or not at all within the runtime. Exposition of information and development of character in this film is so clever, subtle and authentic, and absolutely never feels forced or even written, and much of it we have to read between the lines and figure out for ourselves. That is what truly makes a film re-watchable. Every shot is worthy of study and analysis, and is saying something about the time period and the people within it, and there just so happens to be a really engaging story about one family occurring at the centre of it all.

It’s not often I actually care about a character in a film (especially children), even if I am enjoying spending a few hours with them very much, but the amazing ending made me realise that I really cared a great deal for every one of those kids and their mother and maid, and if any harm came to them I would have really struggled to cope with it. It’s also uncommon for me to feel like I could watch a film again relatively soon after my first viewing. This and The Human Condition trilogy are very rare examples of a feeling I’m sure most people get all the time when watching films, but for me, it’s not often and when it happens, it’s special and beyond my comprehension.

It’s without a doubt one of the finest films of the decade and I think it’ll be remembered and scrutinised for a long time to come. All its already-received awards and its nominations for the Academy Awards are thoroughly deserved, and I’d say if you don’t see the what the fuss is all about then you’re not ready for it yet. Maybe you’re not old enough or mature enough for it yet, so come back to it in a year, 2 years or maybe 10 years and see how you feel about it then, because I’m sure you’ll change your mind.

I’m not in a hurry to call Roma ‘an instant favourite’, because sometimes I like to allow a lengthy cooling-off period for a film to sink in, to see if it crops up in my everyday thoughts and feelings, and if a natural bond begins to emerge. But at this stage, I’d say there’s big potential. Ask me again in a week…

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