In praise of the shared experience

‘Roma’ is a tour de force of cinematic storytelling

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Roma drains you then fills you back up before sending you out into the world.
Caitlin Rockett | Boulder Weekly

The theatrical release of Roma is the cinematographic event of the year. Initially acquired by Netflix for their streaming service, Roma’s visual and aural power proved too big for TVs, laptops, iPads and phones. Sure, subscribers will be able to stream the movie to their hearts’ content starting Dec. 14 — pausing, rewinding and absorbing every last stunning frame — but Roma is an enveloping, engrossing experience; one that wraps you in its sumptuous and steady black-and-white images, in its patient and knowing reveals, and in its climactic tracking shot, where one family is united after another is, finally, let go. Everything in Roma is larger than life, and after a dual premiere at the Venice and Telluride Film Festivals this summer, it was clear: Roma demanded the big screen.

Breaking with Netflix’s tradition of only screening movies theatrically once they hit the website, Roma has slowly been rolled out in art-house theaters across the U.S. Now it’s Boulder’s turn; to skip it would be foolish.

Set in director Alfonso Cuarón’s hometown of Mexico City circa 1970, Roma follows Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a young Mixtec housekeeper caring for an upper-middle-class family in the Colonia Roma neighborhood. Life progresses with a day-in-day-out regularity: Father goes to work, Cleo takes care of the children and cooks, Father comes home. On her free days, Cleo hangs out with friends, goes to the movies, meets a boy, Toño (Diego Cortina Autrey), and falls in love. Then things shift. As Cleo sits in a hotel bedroom, Toño shows off his chiseled physique and impressive bo skills. He explains that martial arts saved him from himself, and Cleo sits quietly and listens. In another movie, this might be the moment when true love starts to blossom, but above Cleo’s head is a painting of a turbulent sea, waves crashing against cliffs and a boat helplessly adrift.

There’s a storm brewing in Cleo’s world, too.

Rooted in Cuarón’s memories, Roma is a love letter to the woman who raised him and the city he called home. Using the ALEXA 65 — a digital camera that mimics 65mm film with surprising results — and utilizing a rich, incomparable soundscape, Cuarón deftly sets up this world and patiently watches as it falls into discord. When Father abandons his family for a mistress, wife Sofía (Marina de Tavira) must search for employment to support her three children and Cleo. And when Toño does the same to Cleo, Sofía and Cleo find themselves cast overboard without life jackets. But Cleo learns to swim, so to speak, and Sofía finds the family she’s had all along.

Like the best cinema tends to do, Roma first drains you then fills you back up before sending you out into the world. That is why Roma demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible, in the dark, with a community of strangers. Life is a shared experience; movies are no exception.

On the Bill: Roma, free screening. 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9, International Film Series, Muenzinger Auditorium, University of Colorado Boulder, 1905 Colorado Ave., Boulder, internationalfilmseries.com