Director Alfonso Cuaron follows up the excellent Gravity the best way he can, by going back to his childhood to make this loving ode to the women who raised him. The film is a poetic, crystalline visual glory, demonstrating Cuaron's graceful, effortless, yet complete command over light, space, and rhythm. It recalls films like Sunrise and The Night of the Hunter, as well as European masters like Bresson, Fellini, and Antonioni. But thematically, it's all Cuaron's, as he follows his characters moving through impressively beautiful, massive, and sometimes threatening space. He continues to use his trademark sustained, unbroken shots, and while he's already proven himself a master at the use of color, here his use of black-and-white proves that he's just as adept with shadows and textures. (The opening shot, with an airplane reflected in a puddle on the floor, is a beauty.) And his detailed recreation of early-'70s Colonia Roma is impeccable, from the music and food to the cars and the use of very Mexican expressions.
Cleo, who represents the reality of millions of domestic employees in Latin America who basically do everything in the house, including waking kids up in the morning and supervising them at night, is a curious character. She's seemingly impassive, almost as if shy to show her emotions. But when she does, it's tender and moving. Roma really puts her through the ringer, but as in Cuaron's other stories of women (A Little Princess, Gravity, etc.), his approach is delicate and affectionate; he never bludgeons. Cleo's trials and tribulations are foreshadowed with little omens, such as a small earthquake in a hospital or a fire, that are almost indirect suggestions of conflict. Even moments of intensity, as when a demonstration turns into a violent riot or Cleo gives birth, are handled as if the viewer were in shock or disbelief. The filmmaker is on our side, not trying to bash us over the head. Most affecting and most memorable are the small, fleeting moments of joy and beauty, touches that make Roma another Cuaron masterpiece.