Ever since Roma held its world premiere at the 75th Venice Film Festival in August this year, Alfonso Cuaron’s highly-anticipated drama — his first in five years since 2013’s Gravity — had received near-universal praises by critics and even won a slew of awards along the way including the prestigious Golden Lion.
Frankly, it’s easy to see why. Roma is a technical marvel in both sight and sound. Shot impeccably in a pristine black-and-white by Cuaron himself, each scene is visually sumptuous. The sound is surprisingly immersive — the kind that you would normally expect to be heard in genre movies such as action, disaster or science fiction but definitely not in a low-key drama like Roma. And yet, Cuaron pays great attention to detail to every sound throughout the movie, beginning with the mesmerisingly static opening scene that builds to the sound of water splashing on the floor.
Now, if this movie is judged solely on its technical perspective, Roma is hands down the best film of the year. But Cuaron’s cinéma vérité-style screenplay is too plodding for its own good. I understand that the movie itself possesses an unremarkable story about a maid named Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), who works for the middle-class family in early 1970s. Not to mention Cuaron also set his movie deliberately as he unfolds each scene almost like experiencing slice-of-life scenarios in a semi-documentary style. The thing is, I have nothing against a slow-paced drama with all the art-house pretensions as long as it able to draw me in. And yet, this is where Roma is noticeably lacking: it feels neither emotionally invested nor intimate enough in what should have been Cuaron’s deeply personal movie to date.
Some scenes are good enough (the elaborate childbirth sequences comes to mind), while others tend to feel awkwardly misplaced (particularly the one involved Jorge Antonio Guerrero’s strangely over-the-top role as Cleo’s boyfriend, Fermin). Newcomer Yalitza Aparicio is a great find and proves to be quite an actress, especially this movie happens to be her first-ever acting experience.