It is immediately clear, from the beautiful black and white shots and the poetically intimate details that 'Roma' is a very personal film for Alfonso Cuarón. At times, the real-life inspired story of a middle class family in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City, told through the eyes of their housekeeper Cleo, felt so private, so confidential, I sensed like I was intruding on something really special. But I still could not bring myself to look away, I didn't want to stop watching, I also didn't want the film to end because for more than two hours, Cuarón paid homage to womanhood. It takes a big man to do that and an even bigger filmmaker to get the message across.
Turns out, this great Mexican filmmaker, producer, writer and DoP -- he does all that and more on 'Roma' -- had been dreaming of making a film about his childhood. From the press kit for the film:
With 'Roma', which screens in Competition at this year's Venice International Film Festival, Cuarón takes us into his world, the memories of a child now grown up, who clearly cherished being around the women in his life and who remembers, though changed with time, very specific things from his 1970s childhood. Having grown up right around the same time, I recognize the markers of those memories that have long lived in my heart as well. Airplanes overhead, oversized cars that were always a challenge to park for my parents in narrow spaces, the women who surrounded me and kept me from harm, my mother's courage, the songs, and those iconic images of El Che. In fact, apart from the Corpus Christi Massacre, which marks a pivotal point in 'Roma' -- in Italy we had the Red Brigades wreaking havoc -- it turns out Mexico City wasn't unlike Florence in the early '70s. The language might have been different, the faces too but the feelings, the memories seem the same. We even had our own minor earthquake...
I felt unusually touched by 'Roma' perhaps because Cuarón's film doesn't hit a sour note, ever and he does so honestly, without manipulating his audience. The selflessness of his portrayal of Cleo (played so wonderfully by the non-professional Yalitza Aparicio), the housekeeper who manages to keep the family together with her kindness, the women who, as Sofia the mother says at one point "no matter what they tell you, women we are always alone,", the children and even the cowardly men who live on the margin of his narrative made for a beautiful watch but an even more perfect experience to take me through the day.
The use of black and white seems perfectly normal for 'Roma' since my own memories of TV in those days are not in color, which came later in the medium. Perhaps a bit of that, for Cuarón, but also a nod to Italian neorealism, and the great grays of Pasolini... 'Roma' with its name and look, and feel of course, seems the perfect films for this year's Venice Film Festival. Actually, a perfect film for the world.
'Roma' will be in theaters and on Netflix this December 2018.