Thinking about the opening shot of Roma brings tears to my eyes. The centerpiece film at the 2018 New York Film Festival is a masterful display of Alfonso Cuaron’s craft, and how the magic of filmmaking can situate the mind in a specific time, place, mood, and way of life. We first see diamond-shaped tiles in a driveway as we hear sweeping and the sounds of a street. The credits are displayed over this tableau. Water splashes across the tiles—ah, the sweeping, someone is cleaning—and we see a reflection of the sky confined by the shadows of the rooftops as an airplane roars by. Eventually the camera pans up and we get a sense of the world we’ll be inhabiting, presented in the manner that the mind drifts through a memory. Reading this description makes it sound so innocuous, but to see it and hear it is transfixing and transcendental.
In fact, thinking about many sequences in Roma brings tears to my eyes. I was describing one scene in a hospital nursery to a friend, and even though I was vague about what happens, I got misty. The moment is unexpected yet perfect. Roma is an intimate human movie about class, family, and women making their way through life, and yet it has the elements of a period epic about Mexico in the early 1970s. For instance, we see a woman walking along muddy planks in a Mexican town without roads, and then a human cannonball courses across the background at the end of a political speech.
How can a movie contain so many surprises? So much life?