After some indecision about which film to watch on the closing night, it came down to sticking with what you know or taking a gamble. And so, with no small amount of trepidation, a punt was taken at the Cambridge Film Festival on the unknown Surprise Film over Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria.
Roma is the new film from Alfonso Cuarón, being distributed by Netflix and hence the chances of seeing this film in the cinema are probably going to be limited. Completing the triumvirate of winning film of the Palme D’or (Cannes), the Golden Bear (Berlin) and the Golden Lion (Venice): Shoplifters, Burning and now Roma respectively.
Taking place in the early 1970’s in the Roma district of Mexico City and shot in stunning black and white Roma details, and focuses on, the everyday life of a Mixtec maid, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), at a turbulent time for both her and the family she works for. Showing Cleo doing her everyday chores: cleaning, serving, tidying up and shepherding the children around the house and to where they need to be is the basis of her life. But seeing Cleo doing it with such love and care and more importantly seeing that love reciprocated, initially from the children but latterly from the adults, mostly from the mother Sofia (Marina de Tavira), is heartwarming and emotional.
With the strains of Sofia and Antonio’s (Fernando Grediaga) relationship showing, Cleo becomes even more integrated into the family structure and it becomes apparent how much she is relied upon to keep things together. And her ability to be calm under all kinds of pressure, in the work place and in her personal life, is just fantastic to behold, maintaining her composure even when things are falling apart. Aparicio’s performance is central to Roma working as well as it does and is steady and composed for most of the film which makes the emotionally impactful scenes all the more powerful when they do happen.
Roma does take its time to really get going and the first half does drag a little and it starts to feel like it might be a long 135 minutes but this is more than compensated by a superb second half and realising that the time taken to fully get to know the cast of characters in the early stages pays off. As all kinds of truths are exposed and divulged, the family unit needs to stick together more than ever and the more it seems that Cleo, even with her future uncertain, is an integral part of it.
The opening shot of a tiled floor being washed clean, with water being splashed over it and watching it drain away whilst also periodically showing a reflected sky with planes passing over, was such a serene and beautifully done opening sequence and just a hint at what was about to be seen. With Cuarón taking the auteur role in this film: writing, directing, cinematography and editing it, this is most definitely his film and his vision of what he wants to show and say. The variety of shots and composition are impeccably done, managing to take in the hectic household alongside the bustling streets but also capturing the up close, personal moments of the family. But it is truly his tracking shots that stand out above all else, especially in the final tracking shot of Cleo and the children on the beach elevating the emotion and tension of the moment, making it particularly moving.
There is much fuss made about the incursion of streaming services into the cinematic realm and whether it is a good thing or a bad thing. Here, with Roma, it can evidently be seen that what has been made is a thing of beauty and value to the viewer, but on the flip side the chances of seeing this on the big screen will probably be limited and I can imagine that this would not have the impact that it had on me if it was viewed solely on a small screen. However, if the streaming services keep bringing out films of the calibre of Roma and, my favourite from last years Cambridge Film Festival, Amazon’s You Were Never Really Here, then surely that it a good thing.
Gaining major festival awards is no small thing and for Roma to have done that is huge in the scheme of things, opening the door for more films of this quality to chance their arm at going with a streaming service distribution. Roma is being released in theatres and on Netflix in December, but I would urge you to see this on the big screen if you can.
Roma will be available on Netflix in the UK in from December 14th 2018.