Roma -Movie Review
Roma is a gorgeous experience, every frame is like an art photograph—it is breathtaking. It’s important you remember that.
Inspired by autobiographical events of director Alfonso Cuaron’s childhood growing up in Mexico City, Roma recalls post WWII Italian Neorealism. Daily life in an upper middle class family, seen through the eyes of one their servants, Cleo (Yalitzia Aparicio) is depicted over a several month period in 1970-1971. Cleo and another servant Adelea (Nancy Garcia Garcia) do everything for the family they live with; parents Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and Anthony (Fernando Di Grediaga) and their four children: Paco, Tono, Pepe and Sofi (Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta, Marco Graf and Daniela Demesa). Cleo and Adela live in a small apartment attached to the main house, and although it has a cozy feel, its size compared to main house, where the family resides is so disparate it serves as a great visual metaphor for the discrepancy in their statuses.
At first, Cleo, as much as she can, lives fairly independent of the family. Though her domestic service job is consuming, and she is never far away from the family, she manages to double date with Adela, and spend time with her over confident, ne’er do well boyfriend, Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero). When separate incidents involving the irresponsibility and selfishness of men drastically change their lives, Cleo, Sofia and the children become more entwined and interdependent. The dangerous political situation (the Dirty War) at the time in Mexico City also plays a role in the series of events.
The camera does amazing things in this film, and Cuaron’s style, which can be challenging sometimes, is undeniably unique. The director’s commitment to presenting real life, can unintentionally, or perhaps intentionally, frustrate you. Often a shot is held just a second or two too long, and you find yourself saying “cut already.” This technique gives the impression of “we are just looking here”- we are not going to manipulate your emotions by fast editing or fancy camera work. This doesn’t mean that the camera doesn’t move, because it does. But it moves very fluidly and sweepingly in long takes, like a film from an earlier era; not jarring and spastically like a modern action film. Also, interesting is the absence of close-ups, when you expect one to underscore or convey an actor’s emotional reaction, instead Cuaron stays on a long shot of what the actor is seeing. This could put you in the character’s place or it could make you feel like you are watching a documentary that is purposely trying to be objective and keep you emotionally unengaged.
However, there is a sequence near the end of the film that is absolutely stunning and incredibly moving. It would be considered the climax of the film, if the film had traditional structure. It’s just fantastic, and ends with the iconic image seen on many posters. I liked Roma, its images and beauty are like poetry, but it is also a bit challenging and I think it will be very challenging for the average movie goer. It’s deliberate pace, it’s doggedly determination to not be melodramatic and to be real, sometimes make it seem like scenes go on forever, and nothing is happening. I had no idea what the title meant and never saw a clue in the movie, so I had to look it up. Roma, is short for Colonia Roma, which is actually the neighborhood in Mexico City where the story takes place.
It is an incredibly personal film and its specificity and visual images make it involving and worthy, but some traditional story structure might have added to its appeal and accessibility. It is the favorite for the best director Oscar, and even has a chance to win best picture which would make it the first foreign language film to do so. Why is this so hard to believe? Well, first it was a Netflix release, and arguably most people who have seen it, streamed it at home, and never saw it in the theater (it still hasn’t come to Watertown). It had to be released in theaters to qualify for the Oscars, but its box office receipts don’t even track on Box Office Mojo. Secondly it is in black and white, and deliberately paced and has no recognizable stars or actors. Wait that was several anomalies. Admittedly the field of films is very lackluster this year, especially compared to last year, remember: Dunkirk, Call Me by Your Name, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, Phantom Thread, Lady Bird and the winner, The Shape of Water.
No such luck this year.
Roma has won several best picture awards from film critics’ organizations, including: National Society of Film Critics, New York Film Critics Circle Awards, Los Angeles Film Critics Association-it goes on and on
Oscar nominations are announced on January 22nd.