Forget Alfonso Cuarón’s smooth camera work and his technical attention and his ability to wreak havoc in the background while his foregrounds remain calm and focused.

Instead, watch Roma and pay attention to Cuarón the photographer who can bring beauty and life to a million shades of gray.

Filmed in a black-and-white palate that is more beautiful than the colors of Las Vegas, Roma is Cuarón’s love letter to movies and to life. Cuarón is already a master filmmaker, known for his sweeping battle action from Children of Men and his zero-g wizardry on Gravity. With Roma, he presents a story of a smaller scale, that of a simple maid with her base desires and human dreams. His craft remains  deceivingly technical. Cameras pan through the corridors of the family house, up stairs, and down driveways. Frolicking on the street with zooming VW Super Beetles and wide Mercurys. Surf crashing on an empty beach. Cuarón’s scenes are perfectly set with a peaceful focus while chaos erupts all around, be that the happy noise of life, a sob of regret, or the fury of a riot.

However, it is the world happening in the background that is entirely more appealing than the quiet existence of Cleo, the worker/nanny of the house. Yes, Roma is Cleo’s slice of life tale, but the day-to-day intrigue of the family’s dissolving, not to mention the political underpinnings of Mexico City circa 1971, are tempting and raw in ways that Cleo’s polite smile are harmless and safe. Safe, in the end, might make for a nice happy ending, but not always a compelling movie.

Obviously Cuarón wants to showcase such documentation as proof that workers like Cleo or his own nanny, Libo, are not silent; that their tale is just as important. As a narrative, Cuarón fails in this regard. The audience might like Cleo, and perhaps even understand her, but her meandering storyline is a small shadow on an otherwise rich tapestry.

Roma film review

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