Roma ★★★½

I’m wholly convinced that Roma is as close to time travel as we’ll get in my lifetime.

From the first frame, it’s abundantly clear that Alfonso Cuarón isn’t intent on merely imitating the past - he plans on immersing us in it. Every detail of his childhood home is painstakingly recreated in raw, authentic detail, and we are thrust right into the environment of 1970s Mexico.

Cuarón’s camera keeps the audience distant, never engaging in close-ups. Through a mix of long takes and wide pans, we follow our protagonist Cleo through the mundane, unassuming events of her daily life as if we are a fly on the wall, quietly absorbing every last detail of her experiences. His shots of the outdoor environment - particularly of nature or the ever expansive sky - are true marvels.

The sound design additionally works to place audiences in the heat of the moment. From the crashes of waves to the sweep of a broom to booming gunshots, every last noise registers on an intense, visceral level. I’m very thankful that I got to experience this in a Dolby Atmos theater as well, as it truly allowed me to step into the world Cuarón had so lovingly curated and bask in all its glory.

Yalitza Aparicio & Marina de Tavira are completely sublime. Aparicio, a newcomer, plays an understated role with intense grace and dignity, and she captures Cleo’s innocence and good-nature with aplomb. De Tavira does so much with less screen time (delivering my favorite line of the film as well) and portrays a woman enduring heartbreak and devastation with incredible sincerity. As these two travel on their own painful paths, brought about by the troubles of careless men, they alter and grow in similar, yet opposing ways, constantly engaging the audience.

Although I was quite astounded by every technical aspect Roma and Cuarón had to offer, I will sadly admit that I wasn’t taken with the narrative at all. I’m a true fan of “slice of life” pieces, but I do also wish for some sort of construct plotline to follow occassionaly, so I think that Roma’s “memory”-driven story was slightly too downplayed for me at times. This isn’t to say I wasn’t emotionally affected - the second half delivered heartbreaking payoffs for sure - but I was not reduced to an emotional puddle as I was expecting to be (and this is coming from someone who nearly cries in every movie). I do wish to revisit Roma in the future to see if a second viewing may bring further attachment to the story and the characters. At the moment, it’s certainly a film I admire for all its technical achievements, but the story didn’t grip me as much as I wished, and I believe that the direction was overly calculated to a fault, causing the film to register far colder than anticipated.

Nevertheless, Roma is a gorgeous, empathetic, and pure transportation to a bygone era and a loving journey inside the memories of one’s mind. As a filmmaking experiment, it’s undeniably impressive and applaudable. Although I wasn’t as affected as some have been, I implore everyone to seek out this film for themselves and bask in Cuarón’s magnificence.

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Zoë Rose Bryant liked these reviews