There is something special that happened on West 43rd Street.
I mean, sure, sometimes I forget about it. I was driving on West 43rd Street on the northwestside of Indianapolis not so long ago, lost somewhere between laughter and tears as I found myself pointing, to no one in particular, the sandbox where I'd been gang raped as a wee child by a group of older teens who likely had no clue what gang rape even meant.
"There it is!," I found myself exclaiming as I drove by the one-story apartment where Roy, an older gent, had taken photos that an older gent ought not take.
"I wonder if it's still there?," I questioned myself. "I need to find out," I answered before climbing out of my car and into my wheelchair and traveling a slightly wooded path toward an area where my childhood abuse perpetrator had tauntingly carved our initials into a tree as if to somehow romanticize the events that have taken me years to even begin to set aside.
"Oh my, the initials are still there," I mumbled somewhat in disbelief.
But, there were other things.
Things I remembered. Things I cherished. Things that made me smile in this same place where my innocence was stolen and my already weird psyche' was permanently altered.
I remembered playing with Heidi, whose friendship made a difficult childhood not so difficult.
I remembered delivering newspapers door-to-door in what I suppose amounted to being my first job.
I remembered Valerie, a cherished lifelong friend whose daily presence in my life from third grade going forward became a lifeline long before I realized I needed a lifeline.
I remembered so much beauty and wonder and awesomeness amidst this place where I had experienced so much trauma and grief and loss and pain.
I thought about all of these things often as I wound down my viewing of Alfonso Cuaron's exquisitely created and magnificently rendered Roma, yet the latest "best ever" from a filmmaker who keeps on making his best ever film. I mean we're talking about the guy who created Gravity and Children of Men and other films that simply leave you breathless while stimulating both heart and mind.
Roma, filmed on 65mm at 2.35:1 ratio in absolutely stunning black-and-white, is that rare film that absolutely begs, even demands, to be seen on the big screen even as it was picked up by Netflix for distribution and will be available for streaming beginning December 14th.
Don't fall for it. Seriously.
Roma desperately needs to be seen on the big screen where one can fully appreciate Cuaron's epic vision for such an intimate story. Roma is a film that needs the space that a theatrical screen provides, far too many precious details getting lost within the narrow confines of even the largest widescreen home setting.
If Roma is near you, go see it.
Cuaron grew up as one of four siblings in Mexico City's Colonia Roma neighborhood, his being a middle-class family of intellectuals, though this film isn't so much his story as it is reflective of his collective cultural experiences. It explores childhood memories, yet it does so informed by movement forward into adult years. The story, in fact, isn't told from the perspective of the children in the story or, for that matter, even the parents. It's told sublimely through the lens of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a nanny whose attention to the children and this multi-level house is neither glorified nor minimized.
It is simply her story.
Roma is Cuaron's masterpiece, though perhaps the true mastery of the film is that it never actually feels like a masterpiece. The film is dedicated to Libo, Cuaron's childhood nanny and it's impossible to know how much of Cleo is fact and how much is fiction. What is clear, however, is that Cleo is brought to life with nearly unfathomably authenticity by schoolteacher, former domestic worker and now first-time actor Aparicio, whose performance here is empathetic and stunning in its authenticity.
Cuaron bathes Roma in both a majestic romanticism and a harsh realism, somehow always finding the beauty in moments big and small and the little truths that survived even the most tragic times.
Roma guides us into Cleo's life and into the life of Sofia (Marina de Tavira), Cleo's employer who seemingly lives a world away from Cleo until similar misfortunes teach them that they cannot depend on the men in their lives. It is a theme that weaves its way through Roma frequently, more than a little bit of an indicator of Cuaron's deep respect, admiration and appreciation for the women who helped form him.
There's a scene early in the film in which Pepe (Marco Graf), Sofia's youngest son, is playing dead. He is joined with a similar spirit of play by Cleo, whose participation seems to surprise Pepe. It's a quiet scene, really, yet when held up against the tapestry of the film it is a scene that keeps flashing in my mind over and over again.
Roma is a film that demands patience, not in a laborious way but in that way that a true cineaste invests themselves within a film, as its first half seemingly wanders aimlessly before Cuaron reveals himself precisely and exactly and tragically and remarkably.
Suddenly, we understand.
Roma, as is true of nearly all Cuaron's films, presents us with flawed people rising up and grabbing the stars above themselves and somehow transcending their labels and their limits and their indescribable challenges. In cinema, so often filmmakers will immerse themselves within those challenges yet Cuaron, perhaps in this film more than any other he's created, immerses all of us inside the beauty that was always present and still remains.
Roma is an extraordinary film, a near masterpiece that may very well become a masterpiece upon further viewings that reveal those little sacred places more fully. It's a film that embraces the fullness of life and relationship and culture and all those things that have added up to make us who we are.
Then, it says "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."
Cuaron seemingly is trying to tell us something, or at least this is what I believe, and I believe that may very well be that we can trust the beauty or the scars or, just perhaps, that we can trust the beauty and the scars are irrevocably intertwined.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic