Alfonso Cuaron is one of a very small number of directors who can lay a legitimate claim to being the best director alive, a film-maker whose catalogue is about as formidable as it gets.

The Mexican-born helmer of Gravity, Children of Men, and other ambitious, game-changing films returns to his native roots with Roma, filming in Mexico and the Spanish language for the first time since his sweltering road-trip classic Y Tu Mama Tambien.

Crafted on a scale generally reserved for grandiose war films, Roma is a deeply personal, meticulously designed opus dedicated to Cuaron's childhood maid Libo.

In the film, we follow Cleo (first-time actor Yalitza Aparicio, giving a subtle, remarkably naturalistic performance), the maid of a relatively well-off family living in Colonia Roma, in Mexico City.


Cuaron draws extensively on the world of his childhood, and on the life experiences of Libo, exquisitely recreating a Mexico embroiled in social and class turmoil in jaw-dropping, painterly tableaus of black and white.

The slight, modest narrative of the film unfolds slowly and at its own pace, feeling at times novelistic. Its revelations and character moments building like waves into painful, cathartic crescendos.

Initially, this seems to clash with the breadth and panoramic scale of Roma, threatening to dwarf a story as intimate and unassuming as Cleo's. The fact that we've never really seen a film like this from this particular perspective gradually begins to feel like a new way of understanding who these massive productions can be for.

Undoubtedly, Cuaron's position as the child of wealthy parents raises uncomfortable questions about whether Roma - and specifically the story of this woman, his maid - was his to tell, particularly because of the troubling, difficult-to-parse subtext of a woman who seems to find love and the key to life in working menial tasks for a family of a higher class.

Throughout, Cuaron suggests a holiness, an almost saintly quality to Cleo that is built around her subservience, suffering and modesty. It isn't fair to say that Cuaron's film is flatly supportive of the master-servant relationship – though its subtlety may work against it – but there is a potential cultural divide in the watching of this film for audiences that don't hail from Cuaron's background.

Roma operates in such a maximalist tenor that it really is one worth seeking out in the limited theatrical run it has been given before being unleashed on Netflix.

There is quite simply no other film like this being made right now, and few directors with the reach and ability to achieve it.


Verdict: A grand, profound and troubling cinematic achievement