Monday, January 7, 2019

ROMA: Yes, Alfonso Cuarón's much-lauded movie is indeed one of the year's best

Sorry for the delay in covering Alfonso Cuarón's very impressive movie ode to the Mexican woman who helped raise him and his rather large immediate family, but due to a scheduling glitch with my monthly correspondent Lee Liberman, the film fell through TrustMovies' cracks for a bit.

So: Is ROMA -- named for the Mexico City neighborhood in which Cuarón (shown below) grew up -- as good as the blurbs on its poster, left, would indicate? I think it is, though I must admit that several good friends of mine, intelligent movie-lovers all, found the film slow-moving enough to have to stop and then return to it two or three times, in order to finish watching.

How shall I put it, exactly? This is not an "action" movie. Yet for anyone who can appreciate a film about family dynamics, separation, child-rearing, not to mention class and economic differences, racism, and the many different and equally important forms of love involved in the life of a shy, quiet but remarkably morally-centered young woman, Roma hits the sweet spot again and again.

Aside from the sometimes breath-taking and always lovely black-and-white cinematography by Cuarón himself (as was the direction, screenwriting and even much of the editing: this is a very "hands-on" movie), what impresses me most about the film was how much of it has been shot in mid-range/middle distance and how very few enormous close-ups we are asked to view.

This has the effect of not allowing the viewer to so easily or immediately get "close" to the characters. Instead we have to spend the time noting the small details and tiny incidents -- the parking of a car, for instance -- that slowly build character and lead to our further involvement. Middle distance also helps avoid the easy sentimentality found in so much of what we see in film and on television.

As you might expect from this sort of endeavor -- a near-documentary approach to showing us life -- the performances are all terrifically real yet about as unshowy as seems possible under these circumstances. In the leading role of the maid, Cleo, newcomer Yalitizia Aparcio (above) is quietly extraordinary, as befits a character whose job it is to serve others. Less quiet but equally fine is the much-more-seasoned actress Marina de Tavira (below, right) in the role of the broken-hearted mother of the family.

Though much of the movie is given over to small, seemingly sort of static scenes of daily life, there eventually arise a few whoppingly amazing moments that build into some unforgettable situations that Cuarón handles equally well. The first of these occurs as Cleo's boyfriend, Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrrero, below) does a nude and full-frontal demonstration of his martial arts skills that, while impressive (in several ways), leaves us wondering just who this guy really is. That slowly, clearly becomes more and more horribly apparent.

Roma also boasts the most memorable and moving birth scene I've yet experienced (for reasons that would be a spoiler to dwell on), and another that suddenly shows us the result of government brutality to its student population that is as sudden as it is spectacularly ugly and believable.

The film climaxes with the scene shown on the poster, top. Before I viewed the movie, this "family hug" --  used extensively in the publicity materials and posters for the film -- looked rather sentimental. Once you've actually seen the whole film, I think you'll agree that this landmark moment, thanks to the filmmaker's style, story, and in particular his skillful use of middle distance, arrives completely and absolutely earned.

From Netflix and still playing its limited release in theaters, even as it streams most everywhere else, Roma, running two hours and fifteen minutes, is definitely one of last year's best film. I am adding it to my list right now. 

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