Andrew’s review published on Letterboxd:
I watched this at home, on the largest screen we have. I do feel that something is lost not seeing this in the theater. But I feel that way about a lot of movies. Perhaps a bit more so here, or it might just be that I have been hearing everyone talk about it in that context, so it is on my mind.
This is the story of a housekeeper, living in Mexico in the 1970's. She is from a poor village, where the language spoken is somewhat different from that of the Mexican / Spanish spoken by the family. It doesn't cause any trouble, the maid (Cleo) is able to communicate in both languages, but when she is with her friends and the other maid that she rooms with, they speak the different language.
It is a turbulent time for the country, for the family, and personally for Cleo. There are student protests that lead to government violence, there is an earthquake, a forest fire, and so on. The husband and father of four kids is shacking up with his mistress and not contributing to his family anymore, while the mother / wife is trying to figure out how to break the news to the kids.
Cleo seems content to be a servant, and she also really seems to love the kids she cares for. When she realizes that she is pregnant she tells the father, and he abandons her instantly and without notice. She is all alone, and completely surrounded by people that are equally hurt. The movie does a great job of weaving the micro and macro storylines and comparing and contrasting them.
Then there is the look of the movie. Shot digitally, and rendered in black and white, the movie looks classical (which is fitting) but it also has a perfection to it that I think comes from the digital element, that I think betrays the material. I would much rather this be shot on 70mm film with its grain and organic texture. But honestly that is me bing picky.
The images are often captured in long shots that pan or dolly around a room. This is patient filmmaking. Alfonso Cuarón knows when a cut would take the audience out of a moment. I think the style that the movie was shot in is very engulfing. Not only are there these big, monumental events like the forest fire or the protest, that are done in a long take, but also the mundane little moments at home. It gives power to the little moments, and humanity to the big ones.
Yalitza Aparicio stars as Cleo. She is a first time actress, and she is wonderful in an understated performance. The entire film hinges on her, which is brave because she is an unexperienced actor and because the role is subdued and often quiet.
So far I have made this sound dower and sad, and it is at times. But it can also be funny, self-referential, and it is totally full of life and hope. Some of my favorite moments are when they see "Marroned" at the theater, and Cuarón winks by showing his influence for his film Gravity, and then the clear 8 1/2 reference in the traffic jam in the tunnel. You can't make a movie called Roma and not reference Felinni.
I will say that I had to avert my eyes a couple of times due to emotion. The delivery scene is a long still shot, and it was too powerful for me to process. The family huddle scene on the beach was also too powerful for me absorb.