Netflix review: Black-and-white 'Roma' is like a living postcard

Fred Hawson

Posted at Jan 13 2019 09:59 AM

I had been holding it off for the longest time, but this time I could not any longer.

When it was announced that Alfonso Cuaron's "Roma" was going to be shown on Netflix, I finally relented and downloaded the popular media-service app. The awards buzz for "Roma" is major, especially for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Director. I hope more of the foreign language film nominees are distributed this way in the future.

It was 1970 in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City. Cleo was a woman who worked as a maid in the household of Dr. Antonio, his wife Sofia, and their four young children: Tono, Paco, Sofi, and Pepe. Along with her fellow maid Adela, Cleo took care of the daily chores in the house, like cooking, cleaning and childcare. But as Sofia experienced problems with her absentee husband, Cleo was also having her own traumatic ordeal with her evasive boyfriend, Fermin.

The story was an episodic depiction of daily life and times of an upper middle-class family, and their maids who tirelessly kept up with them. Eventually, it focuses on the problems of two women, Sofia and Cleo, with the men in their lives, and how they rode through their respective life crises. Everything seemed to be so simple and common, yet there was a clear (and strangely engaging) dramatic progression in the way Cuaron told his story. To inject some excitement, there were scenes of a fire, a riot, and martial arts, but these were merely occasional.

Yalitza Aparicio, the indigenous Mixtec playing Cleo, is a first-time actress and it was obvious. She showed very little emotion during what should be intensely emotional moments in Cleo's life, but we do not know if this was due to her inexperience or simply her director's instructions. Despite this, Aparicio's performance was oddly compelling and sincere. Marina de Tavera had her moments of humor as Sofia. Veronica Garcia was so stiff as grandmother Sra. Teresa, All the child actors were naturally spirited. Jorge Antonio Guerrero was over-the-top as irritating Fermin.

However, the main conceit of "Roma" was its mesmerizing imagery. Cuaron was so particularly dedicated and meticulous about his vision for this film such that he could only trust himself to be its cinematographer. Filmed in glorious black and white, every frame looked like a moving, living postcard. Tracking shot after tracking shot, those wide shots, and close ups -- all cinematically artful. Even as the story itself may underwhelm, the crisp visual spectacle of this film cannot be denied. I wish I can see this on a big screen, as it should be.

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."