Well, it’s an old story. Many great films here only get a tiny cinema release, restricted to a couple of cities, and Roma is getting a wider showing than others in the past. Some of the accusers are behaving as if they have never deigned to watch a movie on TV or DVD in their lives. But there is a point here. Roma has to be seen on the big screen. Isn’t it possible for Netflix to widen the big-screen release in the UK and also Ireland for awards season and the New Year? Doesn’t the prospective box office bonanza attendant on its prizewinning success make this economically viable?
Anyway, the year is 1970: posters for that summer’s World Cup, held in Mexico, are still seen in one child’s bedroom. The title refers to the city’s Colonia Roma district and to the director’s belief that Mexico City has been evolving in the four decades since into a non-imperial grandiosity, a quasi-Rome in its commotion and sprawl.
Roma is fundamentally the tale of two women. One is Cleo (played wonderfully by non-professional newcomer Yalitza Aparicio), a young woman of Mixteco Mesomaerican heritage working as a live-in maid for a beleaguered upper-middle-class family in Mexico City. Cleo’s personal life is beginning to unravel in tandem with that of her employer, Sofía (Marina De Tavira).
Cuarón shows how the household, though placid enough, is under pressure. There are signs of tension and dysfunction. The tiled courtyard driveway, which is shown being mopped clean over the opening credits, is habitually covered in the excrement of the family’s much cherished dog. The man of the house, Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), parks his car in this space with a wearied yet fanatical care that hints at his own unhappiness.
His wife Sofía presides over four boisterous children, but the real work is being done by Cleo and her fellow maid Adela (Nancy García García), who are always eligible for the condescension of class and race but are nonetheless well treated. Antonio keeps going away for what are supposedly business trips and a stressed Sofía one day tells the children it would be a good idea to write to their dad, imploring him to come back. Meanwhile, Cleo has to explain to her dodgy, martial-arts enthusiast boyfriend Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) that she has missed her period. It is the prelude to disaster.
There is tragedy, comedy and absurdity here, along with sublime mystery in its extraordinary setpieces. At the heart of it all is a wonderful performance from Aparicio, who brings to the role something delicate and stoic. She is the jewel of this outstanding film.