Year: 2018
Production Co: Esperanto Filmoj
Studio: Netflix
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Writer: Alfonso Cuarón
Cast: Yalitza Aparicio

Alfred Hitchcock once said movies were like life only with the boring bits cut out (I'm paraphrasing). I couldn't help but think of that while watching Alfonso Cuaron's love letter to his childhood. It's all about the boring bits.

Or to put it more fairly, it's all about the entire life he lived as a kid, with the banal urban and home life details as well as the occasional flashes of drama – just like life is.

He didn't want to tell a thrilling story, he wants to transport you to a particular time and place the way he remembers it with all the sights, sounds, textures and peculiarities it contained (like the brass band marching down the street apparently celebrating some holiday or remembrance).

Inasmuch as there's a story, it centres around Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), the housekeeper and maid to a large Mexico City family in 1970 – one obviously modelled on Cuaron's family at the time.

Cleo goes through various trials and tribulations of her own as well as those reflected by the family around her. She gets pregnant by a young local man, who makes such a hasty exist from her life the instant she tells him it's almost comical, and who'll fail spectacularly to do the right thing when she finds and confronts him.

We learn throughout the movie that the mostly-absent father of the household is actually not at medical conferences all the time, he's off having affairs, and that when he's going to Canada for an extended period it's not for a long work absence but because he's leaving his wife and kids, something she doesn't tell her children and in fact does her best to insulate them from.

The entire brood also lives with the elderly family grandmother and another member of the help who shares Cleo's upstairs flat in the family compound, and together they weave an evocative if less than thrilling couple of months in the life of the young woman.

While not exactly a movie for audiences it's very much a filmmakers' movie. You can feel how every aesthetic decision on Cuaron's part is intended to reflect a strong memory.

The black and white might simply be a reflection of the movie technology in Mexico City at the time – maybe he only ever saw movies that way as a kid – but it's just as likely he remembers his surroundings being a little drained of colour and a little dusty because of the general upkeep he grew amid in at the time.

Because you can feel his reverence for the sensory input he's trying to evoke, the feelings of the memories he's trying to recall. When his dad parks their huge 1960s American gas guzzler in the driveway behind the street-front gates, Cuaron concentrates on details like the clunk as it shifts from drive to reverse, the surge of metallic power as the car starts to move, the cigarette between his fathers' lips or fingers.

Like the political march that turns shockingly violent, a dramatic rescue in the surf during a weekend away and the heartbreaking denouement of Cleo's pregnancy there are a few bursts of activity that punctuate the menial details of everyday life.

But even amid those Cuaron simply tells the story of the family's dynamic. When the kid's mum snaps and yells at Cleo do pick up all the dog shit from the driveway, it's not because she's upset about dog shit all over the driveway.

As such it's more a film to make you feel you've watched something worthy than one to enjoy. It's so intensely personal to Cuaron it's almost self indulgent, but it very skilfully does what film is supposed to do by transporting you somewhere you don't know and letting you experience it fully.

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