Alfonso Cuarón Creates an Ode to His Childhood

Alfonso Cuarón returns to the big the top of his form. 

A half-decade after helming the global blockbuster “Gravity” — which earned $723 million worldwide and several Oscars including best director — filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón has returned to the big screen. This time in his native country of Mexico to film what is perhaps his most personal film to date: “Roma." The film is named after the neighborhood where Cuarón grew up in Mexico. The film primarily focuses on the women who raised him.

The semi-autobiographical film starts with Cuarón experiencing his adolesce through his mother Sofía's eyes, played by an incandescent Marina de Tavira, as well as their live-in nanny Cleo, brought to life by the incomparable Yalitza Aparicio. 

It is, in some ways, a simple story. One that takes places over the course of roughly a year, as the family processes their father’s abandonment and Cleo copes with an unexpected pregnancy. Despite their difficulties, daily life continues, with all the mundanities of everyday life displayed gorgeously on 65mm black and white film. Cuarón doubled as a cinematographer for the project and the result is a rich demonstration of virtuosity. (Despite being a Netflix release, the film is being shown on the big screen for a limited time, and the achievements in cinematography demand that it be seen in theaters.) 

The film is set against the political backdrop of early 1970s Mexico City, which ultimately lead to the Corpus Christi student massacre, and the dichotomy between life’s trivialities and the political strife of the era. The point of intersection between the student massacre and Cleo’s pregnancy is both unexpected and devastating. Aparicio, who gives her acting debut in “Roma," after being discovered in a rural Oaxacan village, delivers a performance of startling intensity.

Nearly every scene in “Roma” is stunning. Cuarón beautifully recreated his childhood and drew spectacular performances from a cast of mostly non-actors and actors. The film, despite being an epic-drama, never relies on sentimentality, every emotion is earned. With a story that is equal parts intimate family-drama and socio-political meditation, Cuarón has realized a masterpiece that is both fiercely Mexican and deeply universal.