Roma (Alfonso Cuarón, 2018) wr. dp Alfonso Cuarón; the film is dedicated to Libo, the director's childhood nanny

romaYalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey

In 1970, Cleo is a maid in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City working in the household of Sofia, whose occupants also consist of Sofia's husband Antonio, their four young children, Sofia's mother Teresa, and another maid, Adela. Antonio, a doctor, leaves for a conference in Quebec, Canada. Among scenes of Cleo's life with the family – her cleaning, cooking, taking the kids to and from school, serving them meals, putting the kids to bed and waking them up – it becomes clear that Sofia and Antonio's marriage is strained. After a brief return, Antonio leaves again, saying he is going to Quebec for a few weeks. Wikipedia.

It’s a sensory, profound work, but what makes Roma really triumph is that none of it was truly made to satisfy an audience. The family, in particular Cleo and her mistress ... are drawn from Cuarón’s own memories of his formative years. ... Cuarón constructs a handsome world to frame these memories, which are captured in pristine monochrome. No shot is thrown away, from the opening credits where soapy water sloshes across a tiled floor, a distant aeroplane visible in the reflection (a neat motif throughout the film that suggests changes to come), to a giddy pan across the rooftops where laundry is strung up like bunting. Beth Webb.

Cuarón’s use of black-and-white widescreen and long, patiently unwinding sequence shots, often organised as a series of deliberate panning pivots from a planted point, suggests at times the Italian drama of the 50s and 60s. There is a bit of Federico Fellini in its bigger-than-life inflation of autobiographical memory, of the legacy of neorealism in its mixture of professional and nonprofessional performers, and also of the lesser-known Antonio Pietrangeli, whose filmography is filled with instances of quietly intricate blocking and camera-play. Nick Pinkerton.

Cuaron, who shot the film in gorgeous black-and-white himself (and clearly learned a thing or two from regular collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki), adopts a fascinating visual style for Roma in that he rarely uses close-ups, keeping us at a distance from Cleo and his other characters, and allowing the details of the world around them to come to life. Without over-using the trick, which would have resulted in a cluttered film, Cuaron often places Cleo in a tableau that could be called chaotic, whether it’s a market teeming with people behind her or even just the home in which she spends so much of her time, full of noisy children, relatives, and servants. Cleo’s existence is a crowded one, and it almost feels like it gets more so as the film goes along, mirroring her increasing concern at the impending birth of her child. With some of the most striking imagery of the year, Roma often blends the surreal and the relatable into one memorable image. Brian Tallerico.

Roma was eloquently berated by Richard Brody in the New Yorker for not telling us enough about its time and place, and above all for not giving its heroine a voice, just submitting her to series of unexplained actions. Brody is right if we think Cuarón is trying to be de Sica or Rossellini (in Bicycle Thieves or Rome: Open City, say), but there is every sign he is trying to be someone and something else: not quite the director he himself has been and not the neo-realist he never was.
The film has been much praised by others, and I think it is a small masterpiece. But it is elusive in many ways. It’s a bit too beautiful, it lingers over its images as if they were jewels or obsessions, and it is very cool about its difficult topics. Those many critics who have found it ‘heartbreaking’ either have easily broken hearts or they weren’t watching. Michael Wood, London Review of Books.

Laborious and unsatisfying, Alfonso Cuarón’s latest film – made for Netflix – plays like an homage to great European directors like Antonioni, Rossellini, and Fellini. But one of these masters Cuarón is not. The story follows the difficulties encountered by an Indigenous American maid living with a middle class family in Mexico City in the early 1970s as she falls pregnant to an unwilling father who leaves her to fend for herself. A few things happen – not that much – but this isn’t really the problem (after all, Tarkovsky made some excellent films in which little happens slowly). Each image feels painfully rendered, we can sense the presence behind every long tracking sequence and detailed domestic tableau, and the result completely disengages us from the drama on screen. Given we’ve seen it all before, done more effectively and with much more style, Roma feels a little redundant. This is the case even at the visual level, with the flat Netflix aesthetic failing to endow Cuarón’s panoramic vision with any clarity or depth. This feels like a long film-school exercise, and provides further evidence that shooting something in black and white doesn’t automatically endow it with artistic merit. Ari Mattes, The Conversation.

References and Links

Wikipedia page
IMDb page

Garry Gillard | reviews | New: 18 January, 2019 | Now: 19 February, 2019