The history of the Academy Awards is strewn with cinematic masterpieces being overlooked for Best Picture in favour of safe, and instantly forgettable movies. Who remembers what won the year Boyhood came out? Or the film that won all the awards that should have gone to The Exorcist? No one does, but we’re still talking about Boyhood and The Exorcist. In 2018, Alfonso Cuarón directed Roma, a stunning, heartfelt, and poetic work of art, and easily the best film nominated that year. It lost at the Oscars too, to a film most people have already forgotten about. But in twenty year’s time we’ll still definitely be talking about Roma.
Set in 1970, Roma is a sprawling autobiographical drama, borne out of Cuarón’s own childhood memories of his middle-class upbringing in the Roma district of Mexico City. The film however, is not about him, but instead focuses on the two most important people in his life. The first is Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), the live-in maid, who is almost but not quite a part of the family. The second is the mother of the family, and Cleo’s employer Sofía (Marina de Tavira).
Over the course of a year, Cuarón’s film glides through the lives of these characters. The ups, the downs, the happy times, and the heartaches. Just like with real life, it will make you laugh, then leave you a blubbering wreck. At times it can feel like almost nothing is happening, yet at others it feels like a cinematic epic. Either way it is never anything less than enthralling. With barely any plot at all, Roma instead captures life and humanity, and it does so in the most breath-taking visual way.
Cuarón shot the film in black and white, but the effect here was not to create nostalgia or make Roma look as if it was made in the 1970s. Instead he employs a stunning long-form, ultra-deep focus, and wide dynamic range style of cinematography. Every frame is flooded with light, creating a perfect, grainless, monochrome image, which captures every detail. I say this without exaggeration, it is genuinely one of the most beautiful films ever made.
Roma is a unique sensory experience of a film. A delicate exploration of memory and abstractions rather than formative events from Cuarón’s childhood, which you would expect in a traditional portrait of the artist as a young man. It evokes Tarkovsky’s Mirror, although this is much more accessible. A poignant and beautiful film, with two magnificent performances from Aparicio and de Tavira. Roma is Cuarón’s masterpiece.
The film is accompanied with a terrific selection of supplementary material on the disc. First up is Road to Roma, an astonishing behind the scenes documentary, filmed by Andrés Clariond Rangel, Gabriel Nuncio, and Alejandro Durán. Pulled together from hundreds of hours of on-set footage, the film reveals Cuarón working with his actors, and explores how the project evolved from memory rather than a traditional screenplay. It provides remarkable insight into a genius filmmaker, and the fascinating challenges and rewards of balancing a cast of professional and non-professional actors.
Snapshots from the Set is a 30-minute documentary from 2019 featuring behind the scenes footage, and interviews from the set during production of Roma. All the key cast and crew discuss the process of bringing Cuarón’s vision to realisation.
Memory & Imagination: The Look of Roma is another 2019 documentary, this one focused on the stunning visual style of the film. This featurette includes Cuarón, editor Adam Gough, post-production supervisor Carlos Morales, and finishing artist Steven J. Scott discussing the approach to create and capture Roma’s stunning aesthetics. Fans of lighting and cinematography will love this. Cuarón also talks at length about the influence of Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, who Cuarón had originally hoped would shoot the film, before taking the job himself.
The Sound of Roma is another programme from 2019, with this feature looking at the post-production sound team. Skip Lievsay, Craig Henighan, and Sergio Diaz discuss their approach to creating an immersive soundscape capable of complimenting the astonishing visuals.
Finally on the disc is “Roma” Brings us Together: The Theatrical Tour in Mexico. This documentary showcases the efforts made to ensure that Roma was widely seen all over Mexico, and the restoration work required at numerous rural theatres to ensure the film could be properly screened. It speaks to what a true labour of love this film was to Cuarón and all those who worked on it, and the lasting cultural legacy it will leave.
Cast: Yalitza Aparicio & Marina de Tavira Director: Alfonso Cuarón Writer: Alfonso Cuarón Released By: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Certificate: 15 Duration: 135 mins Release Date: 24th February 2020