Roma

Rated 4.0

Four years after his Oscar-winning Gravity, director Alfonso Cuarón returns with a decidedly different film in Roma. Working on a much smaller, but no less effective-scale, Roma is a moving tribute to the female servant he grew up with during the early ’70s in the Mexico City suburb of the movie’s title. Cuarón, who claims 90 percent of the movie is based on his childhood memories, tells the story from the female servant’s point of view. Renamed Cleo for the movie, and played by Yalitza Aparicio in an astonishing, heartbreaking performance, Cleo is the glue holding the family she tends together as their philandering patriarch, Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) abandons them. The movie covers about a year in the life of the family, and it’s a slow build. Filmed in black and white, its every shot is a beautiful thing to admire, all the more amazing in that Cuarón acted as his own cinematographer for the first time on a feature film. Much of the movie happens in slow pans. It isn’t very wordy, and it adheres to a certain level of reality that can be taken as mundane at times. It’s daringly simple and somehow simultaneously majestic. There are some grand scale moments. A sequence depicting a violent student uprising is visceral and taut. A near-tragic event on a beach is frighteningly real and totally fills the screen. Roma continues what it is turning out to be a breakthrough year for Netflix, which has given the movie a limited big screen release along with making it available for streaming. This, along with The Ballad of Buster Scruggs by the Coen brothers, is proof that the streaming service has become a giant purveyor of original cinema goodness.