A film like Roma is rare. Alfonso Cuarón writes and directs a love letter to his childhood maid and caretaker, offering a highly personal look into the life of the fictional Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio). Roma takes place during a turbulent time in Mexico City, the early 1970s, but chooses to tell a story through Cleo's eyes, from her demanding job to extremely limited free time. Every scene is meticulously crafted and is a sensory marvel. Every sound is heard the way Cuarón wants it to be heard, every emotion is felt, and every shot has meaning. Watching Roma is like watching Cleo's life play out right in front of you in real time, and only the end credits will rip you back to reality.
Every day Cleo wakes up, gets the kids ready for school, makes breakfast, and makes sure the house is spotless just in time for dinner. The whirlwind of demands is overwhelming, but the overworked Cleo does her job with grace and appreciation. Working for Señora Sofía (Marina de Tavira) is a difficult job, but it also comes with a sense of security, a steady paycheck, and the love of an entire family. After becoming close with a local boy, Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), Cleo is blindsided with an unexpected pregnancy. Cleo's entire world is flipped upside down, as she tries to find support from her friends and her (working) family during this trying time.
Cuarón navigates each scene with a certain elegance, almost having a soothing effect on the audience. As the film moves along, tiny details are highlighted by a natural immersion to the story. There is a sense of emotional attachment between Cuarón and Roma, a sense that Cuarón is one of those naïve children represented in the movie, growing up in an uncertain Mexico City with only his parents and house maid to look to for guidance.
Cleo is an unbelievably impressive and well-crafted character. Aparicio treats her role with all the love and care that Cuarón intended. To be iconic, Cleo could not just be another likable, resilient character. Through masterful direction and acting, she becomes something more; a character that has the power to emotionally grip an entire room full of people, and never let go until the very end.
There is one scene in the film where a local celebrity and strongman entertainer, Professor Zovek, gives a quick lesson to a local martial arts group. The men in the crowd lit up, as they were about to see an amazing act of strength and deception from the great Zovek. Blindfolded, the Professor slowly raises his arms above his head, to form a circle, and simultaneously lifts his right foot up against his left knee. As he stands there, almost in a meditative state, the crowd begins to wonder what is happening. The feat appears to be unimpressive, until Zovek tells everyone watching to try the same. As the class tries to collectively keep their balance, Zovek just stands there, on one leg, peacefully. This scene is a beautiful representation of Cleo, and everything that she stands for. When the entire world seems to be spiraling out of control, Cleo is able to focus, and make the best out of every day. She is truly an inspiring character, and in some ways, a representation of the perfect person.