By Jamie Traner
The evening opened in the lobby of the Plaza Theatre on Ponce de Leon Ave, with the scents of El Ponce wafting through the door upon entry. Atlanta Film Society’s ¡CineMás! kicked off with Cuban Food Stories the week prior, but we’re here for the movie with all the awards buzz: director Alfonso Cuarón’s newest masterpiece, Roma. After thoroughly enjoying a tamale or two, we headed inside.
If you aren’t moved by the subtle romance with life that comes from warm afternoons and appreciations of familial relationships, Cuarón’s newest work might not be for you. However, if you do find a sort of calm in reflection of a period passed, then Roma will not disappoint.
The two-hour-and-some journey begins on a shot of tile. Slow, with the sounds of running water and sloshing in the back. It is a warm welcome to the 1970’s Mexico City landscape of the lifestyle protagonist, Cleo (played by Yaritza Aparicio) leads.
The slow roll over the tiles is gently whisked into the next shot of two girls in aprons and Cleo’s life begins to fully unfold. The tale follows this young maid Cleo, her fellow maid, and the family for which she cares: a mother, four children, and a father often gone for his various concerns. Cleo spends her time fulfilling homely duties, cleaning, cooking, playing with the children, with a spare few hours to spend with her boyfriend. Despite her job title, it is clear the family sees Cleo as one of their own, and when times get tough, and they need one another most, their support knows no bounds. Through hardships of pregnancy, and turmoils of indiscretions, with celebrations of life, and every up and down in between, Roma leaves audiences with as much heartbreak and joy as you feel with your closest friend.
It’s difficult to summarize this film without gushing in the ornate details Cuarón chisels into Roma. Even beyond the development in relationships and each character as not just a piece in a larger puzzle, but as an individual of their own value, Cuarón’s fundamental elements must not be overlooked. The textures are tangible, doing a service to the audience not quite deserved. The sounds take you to 1970’s Mexico with the faintest of brushing wind carrying a warmth through the theater, the heavy movements of automobiles long since retired, and so much more. The visuals enrapture you from the start and don’t let go until the final long take as the credits roll you out.
Each frame behaves as its own laudable art, worthy of the finest galleries this world has to offer. The stills command your attention, still breath and silenced phones, as long takes, long shots, medium shots, and every designed angle take the screen. The details express the time and location, but go further to define the characters you see. Down to how the children each eat, how the mother smiles in different moods, the clothes, the decor, the car, Cuarón masters it all.
After leaving the theater, my only satisfaction in life will lie within the ability to have each frame printed for wallpaper.
Alfonso Cuarón has given this holiday season the gift it didn’t know it needed. While Roma releases on Netflix Friday December 14th, it is currently in a limited theatrical run. Available in Atlanta at Landmark Midtown Arts Cinema.