Review: Why Roma is the greatest film of 2018

Director Alfonso Cuaron delivers a simple cinematic genius for his Netflix debut

Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marco Graf as Pepe, and Daniela Demesa as Sofi in Roma, written and directed by Alfonso Cuar��n.
Image by Alfonso Cuar��n.

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If Alfonso Cuaron's Roma could be reviewed in one line, it would be this: Give the Oscar out now and save us all staying up late next year.

It's a masterpiece. If you love action, riveting plot lines, or developing romance, stay away, and stick to the multiplex. Nothing much happens here, yet everything happens. Every single shot is a work of art. Do you remember those little flick books you made as a kid? With the little stick men that would run and jump? This film is that, but the stick men have been drawn by Da Vinci, and enhanced by Industrial Light and Magic.

The action is set in a house in an upper class Mexican neighbourhood in the 1970s. Politics, social unrest, and personal crises all play their part, but really it's all about the visual brilliance of Cuaron's mis-en-scene. I can't emphasise the stunning visuals of this film enough. Every item, in every scene, is perfectly placed, then perfectly shot, and every single shot deserves to hang in The Louvre.

Narratively, we mostly follow Cleo, played by schoolteacher Yaliza Aparicio, a maid in the household. She does her job, and is essentially a mother to the household's children, who are autobiographically based on Cuaron's own upbringing. She meets a guy, loses a guy, and goes through an utterly gut-wrenching childbirth experience that would bring tears to the eye of the most jaded audience member.

The narrative is almost secondary though. The pace is slow, the action minimal, and the storyline pretty much needless. Even when house madame Sofia takes her kids away to the beach to explain that their father has left for good, we're distracted by the incredible, cinematic hugeness of the experience.

Cuaron could have left his script at home, and he almost did. Most of the actors, like Aparicio, are not professionals, and were only shown their lines on the day of shooting. Audiences can simply bathe in his incredible, sensory experience.

That's not to detract from the performances. Cuaron chose to eschew established actors for his own reasons, but it certainly worked. We're given kitchen sink drama by people who have actually seen a kitchen sink in their lives, and when the product is this good, you can't help wondering what keeps the Hollywood cabal in work.

This image released by Netflix shows filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron, left, and actress Yalitza Aparicio on the set of "Roma." On Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, Cuaron was nominated for a Golden Globe award for best director for the film. The 76th Golden Globe Awards will be held on Sunday, Jan. 6. (Carlos Somonte/Netflix via AP)

Of course, I've already raised the Oscar question, and purists will doubtless bring up the Netflix/cinema debate. This film did have a limited cinema release in the US, but most of us will have watched it on TV.
I wholeheartedly agree that a film like this should be seen on the big screen. It's aesthetically awesome, and I'd love to see it in that context. But did Disney, Sony, Fox, Warner Bros or Universal offer to fund a black and white, Spanish/Native American language indie in which, frankly, not much happens, and give it a wide cinema release?

Apparently not, so perhaps until these companies start funding these kind of films again, we should leave the overdone debates to one side, and just concede that Cuaron has made, without a doubt, the greatest film of 2018.

When I have to file these stories to The National's server, I have to tick a box that says "film" or "TV." I took 10 seconds debate that this is definitely a film, and it's on your telly now.


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