Roma (2018). Film review of the drama about a maid in Mexico in the 1970’s

image film roma yalitza aparicio


2 stars film review fair passes the time

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A year in the life of Cleo, the devoted maid to a middle-class Mexican family, during the 1970’s. During these 12 months, Cleo, who is a passive and almost silent observer, sees many changes, including the father leaving his family after he starts an affair, Cleo becomes pregnant and is abandoned by her boyfriend and civil unrest and violence on the streets.

Review, by @Reelreviewer

Director Alfonso Cuaron, noted for helming movies as diverse as A Little Princess (1995) and infertile-future thriller Children of Men (2006), adds another string to his film-making bow. Along with producing, writing and editing credits, he now acts as his own cinematographer. This has a number of benefits for the director.

Firstly, it avoids any ‘business’ arguments between artist and technician.

Secondly, this staffing economy shaves a few grand from the production budget.

Thirdly, the director is challenged to up-skill and utilise the full capabilities of this wonderful machine…and appreciate its limitations.

Perhaps the only down-side is that point one is avoided and the skills and counsel of a stand-alone cameraman is lost. Roma is one such case – a veteran, journeyed cinematographer might have reined in Cuaron’s photographic excesses.

To be more accurate, they aren’t really excesses – more simplicities. This is in stark contrast to his previous work, where Cuaron’s fixation on single camera set-ups – with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski – resulted in the stomach churning, out of control spinning in Gravity (2013) and the long, controlled takes of Children...both gripping movies.

To be fair, the black and white filming of Roma looks crisp. Cuaron likes to use natural light where possible and here white light really stands out. But the movie needs some oomph from time to time.

But Roma might feel less than its 2 hours and 13 minutes if he broke away from his dogmatic single camera style (long, smooth pans from side to side). It’s a diverting approach – for the first few minutes, at least – as the camera assumes the role of CCTV, recording the minutiae of every day life and allowing us the opportunity to scrutinise this house and Clara’s situation.

But do we need to see Clara turning off every light in the house before she turns in?

It makes a slow-paced movie drag on and on. Roma might be up for a slew of international film awards and – incredibly – 10 Oscars, but I started to switch off after the first reel. Critics and film award judging personnel must have been bored so much by this they either have collective, global amnesia or fell asleep through the middle and have, shamefacedly, marked it up.

Or, perhaps, this critic is seriously missing something.

So,on to a few good things.

Adopting a less is more approach fright from the start of the film, Clara’s mop water is sloshed over the garden tiles. It sounds like a relaxing trip to the beach, ironic considering the film’s last scenes involve a near tragedy at the seaside.

The shots of planes slipping overhead and talk of men being eagles who will soar hammer home how grounded Clara and other indigenous Mexicans in their lives of drudgery. Clara is too loyal to think about ever leaving but her lack of aspirations are being subtley challenged.

As the saintly Clara, who loyally waits on her family even during the last few days of her pregnancy – a working life that has repercussions for that life – Yalitza Aparicio is the sweet, almost mute centrepiece around which Cuaron’s camera moves.

Clara is loved by the family, but still sits on the floor as they watch TV. Later, after Papa has left, the family take a trip out with Clara. Worn out by a day’s walking, they relax on a bench as Clara stands. A wedding party makes noisy celebrations in the foreground – the established family are subdued and quiet and the new family roars to life. Will they end up like Clara’s family? Very possibly but one thing we definitely know is Clara will never have the chance to experience either familial state – the final scene is of her repeating her daily duties. Even with the absence of the paterfamilias, her brief moment as a surrogate ‘father’ is taken away from her, even despite stepping up as a hero during the beach scene.

Clara is a tabula rasa – her lack of voice as life’s vicissitudes are heaped upon her allows the audience to form its own opinions about her and the lot of Mexican people. She represents the indigenous Mexican’s who have been made servile by Spanish-Mexicans and also the unrest erupting outside – implied to be led by a US trained paramilitary group.

The allusions to the Trump administration’s demonising of and treatment of Mexican people are plain to see.

For more see the film’s official webpage on Netflix.

Cast & credits

Director: Alfonso Cuaron. 2hr 15mins/135mins. Netflix/Participant Media/Esparanto Filmoj. (15)

Producers: Nicolas Celis, Alfonso Cuaron, Gabriela Rodriguez,
Writer: Alfonso Cuaron.
Camera: Alfonso Cuaron.
Music: Lynn Fainchtein, Caleb Townsend.
Sets: Eugenio Caballero.

Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Nacy Garcia Garcia, Veronica Garcia.


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