‘Roma’: Beauty in Subtlety

by Tyler Warren

If you come into Alfonso Caurón’s newest film expecting his usual flair rather than having an open mind, then you won’t appreciate what he’s trying to do with Roma. Rather than match cinematography with spectacle like Gravity or Children of Men, Caurón dives into the subtle and finds the beauty in it, from the opening shot of seeing the sky reflected off of the soapy mopwater, to the final shot of the fire escape stairs against a bright skyline. Everything in between is nothing short of a master at work. Rather than focus on camera movement, Cuarón keeps his shots simple and static, using smooth pans and revealing long shots to give the audience more and more to chew on. While dialogue is sparse, it is eloquent and masterful, often inhabiting the nature of the situation without breaking reality and keeping the heartbreaking tone intact.

In terms of how the story is unveiled, one feels as if they’re reading a story, each frame a different page in the saga of Cleo. Her efforts to discover her family amid the changing political climate of 1970s Mexico don’t feel rushed, instead giving the audience time to process the character’s emotions, watching them unfold uncut, in real time. The choice to cast unknown and even inexperienced actors works for Cuarón, as moments that could have easily devolved into melodramatic nonsense instead build into climactic moments of pure despair and hope. However, while it’s amazing to look at, sometimes it feels more like a museum piece in that the time between major events in the story is filled with beautiful shots of Mexico. The more one watches it, the less one cares about this effect, but initially it shocks you into being aware of the form of cinema, not only to the point of appreciation, but also annoyance. The more time spent watching the film, the less one notices, until they accept the hybrid mode of storytelling and are unable to differentiate the end from the beginning. It all fuses together like one big nostalgic dream, one that the longer one sits in it, the more they understand Cuarón’s roots.

Sadly, Roma is being released on Netflix, limiting its theatrical release, but it is playing in a number of theaters in New York and Los Angeles for Oscar eligibility. Having seen this film at New York Film Festival, I can tell you how important it is to see this on the big screen, not only for the visuals, but for the sound as well. For example, when the characters are walking down the street, sounds are being sent in every direction, from the back to the front to the side to everywhere else, and if you close your eyes, you might just find yourself walking right along with them. Either way, even if you can’t see it on the big screen, it is still entirely worth seeing. Sure it’ll be an awards season contender. But, it’s also arguably the magnum opus of one of the best directors of the 21st century, a film that will stay supplanted in your mind long after you see it as well as in cinema history.

Tyler Warren