Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Fernando Grediaga, Jorge Antonio Guerrero, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta, Nancy García
The Netflix movie that has sent the cinematic world into a frenzy.
Just that sentence seems like a fable, but, no, it is true. Alfonso Cuarón – helmer of Gravity and the marvellous Children of Men (plus the best Harry Potter movie, Prisoner of Azkaban) – is the man responsible for this most outrageous of things in the form of Roma. Festivalgoers lapped it up (it took home the Golden Lion from Venice) and awards bodies have been falling over themselves to lavish the movie with statue after statue. Netflix acquired the flick and its limited theatrical run puts it in the crosshairs of the Academy, but, is it any good?
Billed as a personal story for Cuarón, based on his roots and upbringing in Mexico City, Roma is told from the perspective of Cleo (Aparicio), a local handmaiden tirelessly working for Sofia (de Tavira) and her family of four children and estranged husband. Two women who couldn’t be more different – in terms of ethnicity, class etc. - yet circumstances that unravel have them facing similarly weighty life difficulties. It’s a thin synopsis as there really is no plot, Roma follows a period of time in the lives of Cleo and the family she spends her life waiting on. It’s a visual slice of life. Federico Fellini once directed a movie also called Roma, though that was a different beast altogether. Whilst Cuarón’s Roma shares Fellini’s title and elements of his cinematic mannerisms, this Roma doesn’t match up to the works of the Italian maestro – and I say that as a wild fan of Cuarón. Fellini aside, Roma is a beautiful looking movie but there’s a real lack of character depth that hurts the movie later on – not from Yalitza Aparicio’s Cleo, however. Aparicio is superb in her role and Cleo really is the focal point as we follow her journey through the dreams, joy, crushing tragedy and hope that affects her during the movie. As for everyone else, the father is brushed aside fairly quickly, Sofia is constantly on the periphery, and the children come and go with no focus, though we are meant to feel for them when the going gets tough. When you can’t connect or attach yourselves to characters that you’re supposed to, it’s incredibly hard to get emotionally invested in them – 99% of them just aren’t interesting.
It wasn’t hard to side with Cleo, as mentioned. Aparicio’s oft-silent work is excellent and a particularly harrowing hospital scene hits harder because of her ability. The first sixty minutes of Roma really are slow, despite anyone’s good work, there is a lot of nothing going on. What does go on is a series of breathtaking shots, beautifully captured and crafted. Cuarón’s previous movies have all been noted for their visuals, but Roma might just be the best of them. Technically, it’s fantastic. The widescreen, crisp black-and-white compositions deliver a grand and sophisticated look to the entire movie and the magnificent use of long one-shots, 360-degree pans, and the near-voyeuristic gliding shots that accompany many of the scenes really lends the impression that we, as an audience, are peeking in on this family’s existence. Beautiful visuals can’t mask a distinct lack of compelling activity on-screen, however. After the hour mark, the movie starts to expand somewhat and begins to focus on the darker side of the characters stories. The aforementioned hospital scene is by far the most effective but a later beach scene didn’t work, for reasons already mentioned, when it should have been a raw, emotional climax. Racism, ethnicity, boundaries, class – these are all issues that are apparent and all raised but they’re never satisfyingly dived into, there’s a lot of surface brushing. Negative male attitudes are afforded more time and this aspect is far more successful in its message delivery.
Roma is one of those movies that you’ll either be utterly mesmerised by or generally nonplussed. It aims incredibly high and visually it hits those marks, however, I wasn’t emotionally invested in the cluster of characters within and the lengthy runtime didn’t aid the movie during the stretches of mundanity that do occur. It is, however, absolutely apparent that Cuarón poured himself into this movie and gave us something that meant a lot to him. Overall, Roma is a series of beautiful, gorgeous shots stitched together that excellently mask a thin story and largely uninteresting characters - Yalitza Aparicio aside. Utterly admirable, visually jaw-dropping but not always enjoyable.
Just to clarify, I did get the movie.
December 14th 2018