See Roma, and see it on a big screen, and see it loud. Alfonso Cuarón’s first film since Gravity is decidedly less flashy—a semi-autobiographical drama, it’s set in the early 1970s and is almost entirely focused on Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a live-in housekeeper and nanny for an upper-class family in Mexico City. But while Roma is smaller in scope, it can be as jaw-clenchingly intense as Gravity, as melancholy and humane as Y Tu Mamá También, and as viscerally overwhelming as Children of Men. Roma is Cuarón firing on all cylinders.
Which brings me back to the “see it big, see it loud” thing: Roma is being distributed by Netflix, and the only way most will be able to see it is by streaming it at home. But by the time its end credits roll, it’s clear Roma is about as powerful a cinematic experience as one can have.
That impact is due, in large part, to its striking black-and-white 70 mm cinematography and its immersive sound design, neither of which are going to come across on a TV screen or laptop speakers. (Luckily, Seattle one of the few cities where Roma is getting a theatrical release, so don’t screw this up.) It’s easy to forget that movies are as much about sound as they are images, but Roma is a reminder of the power of both—in the roaring unrest of a Mexico City street, in the scratch of a broom against concrete, in the body-shaking thud of waves that feel real enough to knock you over.
Those technical chops wouldn’t matter, though, if Cuarón didn’t use them to bring to life a sharply specific story. Aparicio rarely leaves the screen, and her subtle, wrenching performance grows steadily more engrossing as Cleo navigates a chaotic city and shaky relationships—whether with her martial-arts obsessed semi-boyfriend, Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), or the family that employs her, which alternately embraces her and shunts her aside as it starts cracking beneath unexplained pressures. But see, I’ve already said too much: Roma unfolds so naturally, so realistically, and so affectingly that it’s best seen and heard on its own terms. So see it big, and see it loud.