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Why ‘Roma’ Should be on Your Watchlist

'Roma' on computer. Photo by Vivian Wang for LatinX.

Roma Poster released by Netflix.

If there’s one movie to name this year that captures the uncensored essence of being human, it’s Alfonso Cuarón’s latest masterpiece, Roma. It follows the story of an indigenous house nanny working for a middle-class family in Mexico City during the 70’s, and it has garnered dozens of awards from film festivals across the globe for categories including Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Foreign Film, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay.

Here’s several reasons I’d like you to watch Roma by Alfonso Cuarón:

It depicts the real, non-sugarcoated version of Mexico City during the 70’s. 

Roma is for the most part a quiet film, but there’s so much more to observe on screen. Mexico during the 70’s was not picture perfect. In fact, there was much political turmoil and unrest with student protesters. The film captures it all: from a street band marching in the middle of the road, the knife sharpener, to people shopping for baby cribs while what was initially a peaceful demonstration turns into a series of thoughtless acts of violence, leaving us a reminder of the fragile nature of life and happiness.

Yalitza Aparicio’s performance as Cleo the housemaid is worth recognizing. 

Aparicio, an Oaxaca native herself, has never had any acting experience prior to working on the film. She was still waiting for results from her schooling exams when she was cast to play Cleo and had never heard of Alfonso before meeting him. Yet as a first time actor, Aparicio delivers so much despite having very little dialogue while breathing depth and dimension into a character society so often overlooks and ignores.

Cuarón’s cinematography in Roma just tops everything. 

For the film, Cuarón decided to shoot (yes, he shot the film all by himself) on an Alexa65 digital camera, which produces quality that is similar to those from a 65mm film. For Cuarón, the film is partially based on his memories growing up in Mexico, but it’s not meant to emphasize on nostalgia.

“It’s an approach of the past seen through the present,” he says. “It’s a digital 65-millimeter black and white without grain. … We didn’t want it to feel like we’re immersing into the past. It’s the point of view from the present.”

Even with black and white, Cuarón manages to create beautiful scenery that no CGI could ever master. Be sure to look out for ways the sun touches you as it glows across the ocean water, or how the fires dance and frame the New Year’s Eve scene, or how the camera follows the lizard crawling across the dirts of suburban Mexico. Details, baby, details!

Roma centers itself around everything that makes us human. 

Cleo, Sofia (the lady of the house), and many other characters in the film that we don’t get to really know all work their way through love, loss (of life, of a partner, of hope), political unrest, and family. And for all of us, you don’t need to be Mexican to understand any of that; all of these themes are universal to us.

“The movie is as much about families as it is about the country and the complexity of the perverse relationship there is in our country between race and class,” Cuarón says in an interview with Yuriria Sierra from Imagen Noticias.

The pace at which the movie is filmed is a direct reflection of how time passes for us. 

This reason is sort of a follow-up of previous reason. And as I’ve said before, Cuarón really doesn’t sugarcoat anything here. In the opening scene, you are looking down at water sloshing across the ceramic tile of the driveway for several minutes without any camera movement, which may not work in other films, but it does here. Why is that? It’s a calling for viewers to be in reality with the pace at which Cleo operates when she is doing her cleaning at the house. Cuarón utilizes these same, long takes in the scene where Cleo tells her boyfriend Fermín that she’s pregnant. There’s heavy pauses in between their conversation, but the camera doesn’t move, capturing it all. We watch Fermín tell her he’s going to the bathroom when in reality he’s ghosting her, yet the camera still doesn’t move. Through minimal body language, Cleo’s happiness disintegrates as she sits in the theatre waiting for him to return. It’s these raw, uncomfortable, poignant moments that make it almost sinful for the camera to move, because it just hits you to the core.

The movie in itself is a celebration of (strong) women.

Cleo and Sofia may be a yin/yang in terms of social standing, but both go through surprisingly parallel experiences with men. Fermín abandons Cleo in the wake of her pregnancy to avoid fatherhood while Sofia’s husband Antonio passively gives up on marriage to pursue his interest in other women. Rather than following up on Fermín and Antonio’s character plots, Cuarón examines the damaging aftermath both men have caused to their partners. As an audience, we witness Cleo’s resilience through tough silence and Sofia’s unwavering devotion as a mother, even when her marriage is falling apart.

“We are alone,” Sofia says bitterly to Cleo one night. She is drunk in this scene, but, as we all know, alcohol sometimes does bring some truth to the table.  “No matter what they tell you, as women, we are always alone.”

Roma has thrusted all underrepresented aspects of LatinX culture into the entertainment spotlight like never before.

From its director to its actors to the country of Mexico and the perspectives of its everyday people, this film has helped the LatinX community gain recognition in ways that are groundbreaking and special for the film industry. With Yalitza Aparicio‘s performance as Cleo, there may now be more opportunities for indigenous people to rightfully represent their people in media. And who knows? Alfonso Cuarón may just be the fifth consecutive LatinX to win an Oscar for Best Director next February. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Did you love watching Roma? What about it struck you the most? Let us know in the comment section below.

#RomaWithLatinX #Netflix #AlfonsoCuaron #YalitzaAparicio #SomosLatinX

Vivian Wang

Vivian is a travel enthusiast and food connoisseur living in New York City. Her curiosity and passion for languages and culture has taken her across eight countries over the past year. When not working, you can find her meandering in art museums or sampling food at the street markets.

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