Roma is not just about its heroine, a maid named Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), but the confusion of the life around her in Mexico City. Appropriately, Cuarón favors long takes where the camera moves slowly around the room, even from the start which shows Cleo moving around the large house that she takes care of. Often when it cuts to the next scene, the camera continues the same motion as before, making it feel as if we are in a consistent, continual motion. Roma emphasizes this impartiality to viewpoint by the constant panning, but also the marriage of action between the foreground and background. Like life, there's always something else going on outside of what feels to be your own story -- sometimes it aligns with yourself and at others it seems to be a cruel juxtaposition. At one point, the story's main family dejectedly eats ice cream cones after an announcement of a tragedy while a joyous wedding blares right behind them. Cuarón's Mexico City is a cacophony of class disparity, of protests, but also of very human problems of the heart.
Roma was shot in a wide 2.35:1, both physically and mentally enlarging the scope of Cuarón's vision. It's rare that he allows the frame to be centered on one person, but none of those moments should be taken for granted. It's there we can see who Cleo is -- we see her eyes shine as she looks on someone she loves, or we see the thoughts skitter across her face as she looks outside of a car window. Sometimes, the wide screen is meant to show us how small she is in the world, like when she's pummeled by wave after wave in the ocean, but others are meant to show us how she looms so much larger than the world itself.
Cuarón has done something phenomenal here in that he is retelling his childhood (he is apparently one of the children in the family that Cleo takes care of), but was able to tell a story that is outside of himself. Although Roma is constructed mostly from his memories of the time, the film is careful to detach itself from the viewpoint of the children. The sheen of Roma's 4K, black and white, and 2.35 format is a blessing and a curse. The deep depth of field (literally and figuratively) is razor-sharp. We're able to see everything happening on the screen, but there's a distance in how clean it is and how manufactured it comes off in the wide black and white. There are times you wish you could feel things in the movie more tangibly, get a little more grit; there's a 70mm version out there that I'd dearly love to see, but hasn't received a wide theatrical release. The sharpness gives it an arthouse quality, an almost omniscient viewpoint of life's profundities in the details.
Ultimately, that visual focus consistent in every facet and intent of the film. You get the feeling that everything is articulated, captured, and blocked just the way it was meant to be by the director, which is another reason why it can be considered so personal to Cuarón. Roma, for this reason, is a masterpiece. It emotes beautifully in its vision, both on screen and from the heart and mind of its creator. Few artists can say that they've conveyed their story just in the way they wanted to -- Roma is that moment for Cuarón.