Summary of Roma, a Spanish Movie on Netflix
‘Roma,” a masterful drama by Alfonso Cuarón, is many things at once: epic and intimate, mythic and mundane. Based on Cuarón’s memories of growing up in a bourgeois Mexico City household in the 1970s, this tone-poem to his youth is shot through with vivid sensory cues that pulse with equal parts delight, sensuality and sadness. Shot by Cuarón himself in widescreen black-and-white — a format that lends monumentality and permanence to the quotidian, evanescent events depicted here — “Roma” achieves the rare feat of making the personal authentically political, not through explicit polemic or tortured metaphors, but simply by observing life with enough perspective to reflect it in all its contradictions.
Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” opens with a close-up shot of a stone-paved driveway. We see soapy water cascade over the rock, as someone off-camera is cleaning it. In the reflection of the water, we can see the sky, although even that reflection undulates and changes as the water moves. A plane then moves across the field of view within the reflection. It sounds so simple but there is so much in this sequence of images that is reflected in the film to follow: a natural flow of life—water, stone, air—while also presenting us with the concept of the micro within the macro, like a plane against the sky. So much of “Roma” repeats that concept of the personal story against a backdrop of a larger one—the face in the crowd, the human story in the context of a societal one. Cuaron has made his most personal film to date, and the blend of the humane and the artistic within nearly every scene is breathtaking. It’s a masterful achievement in filmmaking as an empathy machine, a way for us to spend time in a place, in an era, and with characters we never would otherwise. The woman cleaning that driveway is Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a servant for a wealthy family in Mexico City in the ‘70s. Cleo is no mere maid, often feeling like she is a part of the family she serves more than an employee—although she is often reminded of the latter fact as well. She may go on trips with them and truly love the children, but she also gets admonished for leaving her light on too late at night as it wastes electricity. Cleo is a quiet young woman, eager to do a good job, and able to stay out of the way when controversy arrives within the family, especially with the distant, often-absent patriarch. Everything changes for Cleo after an affair with a cousin of her friend’s boyfriend results in a pregnancy. Cleo’s employers offer to help their favorite servant with the pregnancy, taking her to the doctor and supporting her with whatever she needs, but the child’s father disappears, and Cleo looks worried about what her future holds. “Roma” spends roughly a year in the life of Cleo as she plans for motherhood, tries to support a family that is coming apart, and simply moves through a loud, changing world. Cuaron, who shot the film in gorgeous black-and-white himself (and clearly learned a thing or two from regular collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki), adopts a fascinating visual style for “Roma” in that he rarely uses close-ups, keeping us at a distance from Cleo and his other characters, and allowing the details of the world around them to come to life. Without over-using the trick, which would have resulted in a cluttered film, Cuaron often places Cleo in a tableau that could be called chaotic, whether it’s a market teeming with people behind her or even just the home in which she spends so much of her time, full of noisy children, relatives, and servants. Cleo’s existence is a crowded one, and it almost feels like it gets more so as the film goes along, mirroring her increasing concern at the impending birth of her child. With some of the most striking imagery of the year, "Roma" often blends the surreal and the relatable into one memorable image.
In short, "Roma" in some movie theaters around the country, but you can stream it now on Netflix at any time. We highly recommended turning your phones on silent and cranking up the volume in order to experience the full impact of "Roma" and its impressive sound design. With its 10 total nominations, "Roma" is tied for the most Oscar nominations this year alongside "The Favourite." It has tied the record held by "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000) for the most nominations received by a foreign language film, and it is the tenth foreign language film nominated for best picture.