‘Roma’: a study of compassion

Semler at the Cinema features Brandon Semler’s thoughts on the world of film, including reviews, think pieces, previews and more.

By Brandon Semler

“Roma” (2018) observes the smallest, and largest acts of compassion and care that can hold a family together, no matter the bleak circumstances that may confront it.

Director Alfonso Cuarón’s crisp black-and-white imagery captures the beauty of the most seemingly mundane activities; activities that mean the world to a family, whether or not they choose to acknowledge it. 

The film centers around a family in Mexico City in the 1970s — and their maid, Cleo, in particular — as it endures both internal and external hardships. 

Much of “Roma” is a fly-on-the-wall observation of these simple activities. Washing a dish, cooking an egg, watching the television with loved ones at your side, singing with a child before they fall into slumber, the sound of lights clicking off at night — Cuarón makes these small moments a fixture of his film, incorporating some of the most immersive sound design of anything released this year. 

The cinematography — impressively handled by Cuarón — elegantly captures the busy streets of Mexico City, the rolling hills of the countryside, the sun-soaked beach and the busy and the crowded home kitchen as the family prepares for the day.

Though much of the film is a record of these small, beautiful moments, sad realities begin to burrow their way in, as Cleo — the linchpin holding this family together — begins to endure some changes, as does the family itself. Much of what unfolds is hard to watch, though the film never looses its appreciation for the little things. 

Yalitza Aparicio delivers one of the most stunning performances of the year as Cleo. It is quiet and understated, with windows of joy and moments of devastating sadness throughout. Her emotions are rarely displayed on the outside, but much of it in conveyed in the eyes. And when it is displayed on the outside, and is impossible to turn away from. 

“Roma” is currently available on Netflix.

Status: Strongly Recommend

Brandon Semler can be reached at popdiversifies@gmail.com, or on Twitter @BrandonSemler.

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