Paul Oyama’s review published on Letterboxd:
Academy premiere screening featuring Q&A with cast and Producers
Empathy (noun) - the understanding and sharing of the feelings of another"
Synonyms- compassion, affinity, and now: Alfonso Cuaron's Roma .
This film is Cuaron's black-and-white semi-autobiographical story about a family in early 70s Mexico City and their live-in maid. The entire process of making Roma is pure insanity. Cuaron wrote this script in secret and didn't show it to anyone, including the crew OR cast, throughout the duration of the film. He used almost entirely non-actors (including the lead), which actually works wonders for the naturalistic feel the film captures. The film was also shot in sequential order, which while assuredly painstaking helps the flow of the scenes immensely.
This is truly one of the most emotionally resonant films I've seen in a long time. From crawl to credits the film oozes the powerful reality of this family's life. It doesn't try to glamorize their situation or create false conflict where there is none. It's not a case of situational empathy, where you feel bad for someone because their circumstances are awful. The film builds the characters so effectively that anything that happens to them evokes a strong response. I was on edge for every moment that Cleo was in any sort of precarious scenario.
It truly saddens me to know that most people will see this on a laptop and not in a theater. The black-and-white photography BEGS to be seen on the biggest and best screen possible. That Cuaron shot this himself is astonishing. Scope isn't something I think about when I picture rural Mexico, but the way the countryside opens up and envelops you is transformative. The scene at the beach is also captivating on a visual and emotional level. There are signature Cuaron tracking shots that help realize the world in whole.
The vulnerability displayed both by Cuaron in telling this story and the actors (or I suppose in this case non-actors) with their performances is nothing short of extraordinary. They all completely open themselves to raw emotion, which helps the audience engage on an even deeper level than they may otherwise. The film also isn't afraid to shift from saccharine to despotic at the drop of a hat. In this way it reflects all of our realities to the utmost degree.
This film isn't afraid to open itself up to any type of scrutiny. It lays it all out there and lets you decide how you want to respond to it. Suffice to say that I embraced it in its entirety (a la Sofia and her family in the film). I was in tears many times throughout, but ended with a feeling of warmth and home. A true masterstroke of the art form, Cuaron's look into his upbringing reinforces just how he became such a powerhouse. With family, with culture, and with love.