Following the BFI London Film Festival back in October, the Twitter buzz for Roma was completely unavoidable. From debates on whether it’s even worth watching through Netflix on TV instead of in theatres, to discussions of how it was undeniably the best film of 2018, the hype was unbelievable. So I put it off – only for around a week after the initial Netflix release, but that may as well be a century in critic-time. I didn’t think that it could possibly live up to everything I’d heard about it, but I wanted to give the film a fair shot: I dimmed the lights, put it on my TV, curled up under a blanket without my phone, and tried to forget all of the outside opinions.
I doubt I was able to fully do that, but regardless, Roma is up there for me as one of the most devastating cinematic experiences I’ve had, from this year, last year, or any other. With a simple plot that follows a year in the life of Cleo – named for Varda’s lead from Cleo from 5 to 7 – and little else, every little element included by Alfonso Cuaron feels like the most significant addition to the life he has given her. By most standards, it isn’t strictly necessary to watch her lay in the sun after hanging up laundry, but it may as well be for all the respect Cuaron shows this activity via the stunning cinematography and quietly moving sound design. Of course, this is all assisted by Yalitza Aparicio’s startlingly real performance, her distinct lack of celebrity polish allowing her to truly own the character.
As someone who likes to advocate for women’s stories made by and for women, I was pleasantly surprised by Cuaron’s ability to depict a story from such a feminine perspective without coming off as clueless or patronizing. In most other situations I would harshly criticize the production of this film for not including more female staff in higher positions, but as Cuaron wrote, directed, shot, and produced this masterpiece, I see how he must have considered it his own work – particularly after years of working for larger studios. And to me at least, the result was still a feminist masterwork, documenting every injustice from the subtle to the outrageous that happens in Cleo’s life. We’ve seen stories before with deadbeat fathers and abused maids, but it’s rare that situations like work being assumed to be Cleo’s is acknowledged and criticized. In any other, lesser, film, Cleo would be a background character.
If you have Netflix, this is mandatory viewing. If you don’t have Netflix, get a free trial and watch Roma. If you’ve exhausted your free trial, make another email account, get a free trial, and watch Roma. No one is exempt – if you have functioning wi-fi, and literally any device that can use Netflix, you have to watch this film, both for your own sake and for the sake of more movies like this being made for women like Cleo.