The chronicling of a year in the life of a middle-class family, and their housekeeper, in Mexico City’s Roma Borough, circa 1970, by Alfonso Cuarón marks a come back to Spanish language for the director of Gravity and Children of Men, the first time since 2001’s Y Tu Mamá TambiénRoma, following an exclusive (and short) festival run, is scheduled for a Netflix release in December.

There is something delightfully ironic about the debate regarding the in-theaters release versus web only presentation, leading to the film’s withdrawal (or exclusion?) of Cannes Festival’s official selection. Roma ended up in Venice where it won the Golden Lion for Best film.

Ironic, since, as much as Roma‘s destiny is to head toward home viewing, it is a rare contemporary example of a highly ‘theatrical’ film. Beautifully shot in Arri-Digital 65mm, gorgeous black and white, Cuarón’s (apparently) semi-autobiographical family melodrama is one good reason to still go to the movies. Simply because, if that man knows one thing it sure is how to shoot a picture.

Patiently using numerous long shots, it is, of course, about emotions, drama, remembrance and family. But technically, deliberately, nothing is left to improvisation. It is very ‘directed’ echoing a homeland imprint of significant cultural popular melodrama as well as highly significant and forceful work of Hollywood neighbor, German expatriate Douglas Sirk’s Rock Hudson vehicles coming to mind.

The exceptional tour de force of Roma curiously resides in the fact it is primarily utterly illusive as it is ultimately less about the family than it is about what, historically,  the film medium usually introduces as a secondary, supporting character, the housekeeper. In the first part of the story, Cuarón carefully builds a deceptive plot line to eventually, in the later part, come up with a succession of dramatic killer long shots that may be manipulative but are highly effective.

In our era of doubts about cultural appropriation and onscreen representation of natives, the evolving character of housekeeper Cleo (played by newcomer Yalitza Aparicio) is cleverly framed at first, deliberately confine within old codes of feel-good melodrama, but going from this figure of servitude into becoming the focal point of the story. Smart.

Roma is one powerful and rare Cinematic Melodrama. A great film.

Tokyo International Film Fest Screenings:

TOHO Cinemas, Roppongi Hills -SCREEN3, 10:50, 18:00, 21:10, November 2nd, 2018.