Netflix’s latest movie to receive critical praise and generate buzz this upcoming award season is Roma. The film is a semi-autobiographical take on writer and director Alfonso Cuarón’s upbringing in Mexico City. The black and white film is set in the 1970s and stars Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, the maid for an affluent family, in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. Spoilers after the trailer.
Roma is a slice of life film but it’s a unique piece because the story centers around Cleo, a Mexican woman of indigenous origins. Cleo is a maid for Dr. Antonio, his wife Sofia and their four children. Aparicio’s performance of Cleo is commendable because she does as much as she can with what she’s given. Her facial expressions and body language fits perfectly with the melancholic tone showed throughout the film. Even the child actors had serviceable performances, they weren’t annoying and came off as organic. Sofia could have been written better for her role in the movie but I liked how Dr. Antonio was used during the film’s third act.
Where Roma is most effective is in its direction by Alfonso Cuarón. Visually the film is a true work of art. Every scene is shot gracefully. There’s long takes that makes you appreciate the background and engrosses you into the scene. The film’s black and white aspect gives off a feeling of watching someone’s memories from a distant past. The vintage setting is like when you go back and look at old Polaroid pictures in an old scrapbook. The framing and spacing used gives Roma unique sense of tenderness when used in conjunction with key plot moments. The black and white imagery also adds to the drama and gives credence to the gloomy and bleak aspects of Cleo’s life.
Above is a still following a scene where Cleo goes through a personal tragedy. The way Cuarón positions the lighting on her face and the shadows around her expands upon her despair and expresses her sadness without using a single word. Moments like this when the film is using non-verbal communication is when it’s at it’s best.
There’s a forest fire and it’s filmed perfectly. Even without using color the atmosphere is rich and vibrant. During the scene there’s a lot going on in the background while the forefront focuses on the chief as he’s singing a song while everyone around him is panicking to put the fire out. The way Cuarón chooses on what to focus on during a scene is what makes Roma interesting and while watching it you’ll pick up on things that are happening in the background.
As Professor Zovek (Latin Lover) shows his students how to meditate they laugh at him because he’s doing something that seems simple and ludicrous. He ask if they think he’s supposed to levitate or lift a plane. Once he starts his meditation the wind calmly blows and causes the sand to blow swiftly levitate behind him, like tumbleweed passing through an abandoned city, in the background and a plane flies over him as well.
The scenes that depict murder in Roma are filmed in a way that deserves a keen eye. Just from the frame above there’s a lot going on. In the background there’s a murder and in the foreground there’s a gun. How Cuarón sets this scene up is masterful because when we find out who is holding that gun it explains why that’s the focus instead of the murder happening in the background. What makes thing even better and adds a new element to the story is the location that this scene is taking place in.
As elegant the visuals of Roma are, the film’s biggest struggle is in its writing and it’s pacing. The first two acts of the film move at a snail’s pace, which is a shame because everything is shot spectacularly, but as the plot progresses there’s not much happening to keep you interested. There’s a couple emotional moments sprinkled throughout the film but they’re so few and far between. The things that happen during the first 75 minutes do not have an impactful payoff as the movie approaches its end. Dialogue wise, Cuarón’s writing isn’t on par with his cinematography. Outside of a couple of lines there isn’t much that really stuck with me once the film had ended. If there were more emotional gut punches throughout the film then the element of drama would’ve justified it’s run time. The metaphor of Cleo and Sofia going through traumatic experiences, but at different social levels and handling it differently was intriguing; however, their relationship was missing something to make it completely compelling.
Lastly, Roma’s strengths are in its imagery, which is why I would recommend it to any upcoming filmmaker who wants to learn how to create an alluring looking film. There’s an abundance of frames that you could just pause and it looks like a true work of art. Definitely some of the best cinematography of the year. For a slice of life film the plot wasn’t anything that hasn’t been done before or better in other movies. Due to Roma’s pacing, at 2 hours and 15 minutes, its runtime was hard to sit through because there wasn’t a lot of engaging moments in its story to justify such a long film. There could’ve been at least 20 minutes taken out to make it a tighter and cohesive experience. Alfonso Cuarón knows what he’s doing behind the camera as a director but as far as writing goes there’s better semi-autobiographical takes on a director’s life that were released in 2018. If you’re on Netflix and you want to watch a film for its qualities as art then I would recommend giving Roma a viewing.
[a si a si]
[All Mames Wey]