LFF 2018 Roma Review
Roma (2018) Film Review from the 62nd Annual London Film Festival, a movie directed by Alfonso Cuaron, starring Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Fernando Grediaga, Jorge Antonio Guerrero, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Carlos Peralta, Nancy Garcia, Diego Di Cort and Veronica Garcia.
Roma is gorgeous to behold from the first frame to the last. Alfonso Cuaron’s previous film – Gravity was an example of Hollywood’s latest cutting-edge technologies. Roma took just 15 million dollars to make. The obvious conclusion is that the first of “the three amigos of cinema” to win the Best Director Oscar can create effective drama regardless of the setting, actors or his budget. He can direct a story whether the characters are floating in the cold vacuum of space or lying down in the dustiest, most unmemorable locations on Earth.
His films are breathtakingly beautiful, have a powerful atmosphere of their own and at least one or two scenes will move you in ways you haven’t experienced before. Frankly, it’s remarkable how similar his last two films – a space thriller and a family drama are in certain aspects. Both are nearly plotless, both succeed at creating a very specific experience and depict characters who are at the mercy of life’s randomness. Remove plot conventions and borders and you are left with something extremely real and affecting. Roma proves that wholeheartedly.
Great Actors and an Equally Great Cinematographer
The story follows a middle-class family in the 1970-s and focuses on their housekeeper. The performances of all the child actors, the parents in the family, Cleo (the housekeeper protagonist played by Yalitza Aparicio), her friend and her antagonist boyfriend are outstanding. An equally significant role is played by Alfonso Cuaron himself, who steps in as the film’s cinematographer. There isn’t a shot in this film, which is not impactful in at least one way.
There is always something unique happening in the frame. As the drama is unfolding on the foreground, the background is filled with something big or at least impressive, in the slightest. Sometimes, a man would get ejected from a gigantic cannon. Other times, a trader would keep bouncing a ball against his hand. The action on-screen is sometimes used to boost the drama, to glorify the visible character or to simply impress with the fact that something as big and real has been captured on camera.
The director’s visual style never loses its immersive, epic quality. He shows us everything – from floor filth to forest fires and not only it is beautiful but it is also emotionally affecting. He uses close up-s very sparingly but then again, the same goes for the dialogue. The majority of shots are wide. In them, the background hugely contributes to the characters on the foreground and often overshadows them. It is a bold and highly effective choice, which contributes to the feeling that these characters are powerless against life’s twists and turns.
Short but Unforgettable Moments
With the exception of a couple of scenes in the third act, Roma doesn’t offer many carefully written and constructed sequences. What viewers get to experience every 10 minutes or so are short, unique moments – some of them intimate, others borderline insane – but all of them believable. It is an impressive case of film mimicking life. These moments help the audience get through the script’s seemingly simplified story beats. The popular expression “Live for the little things in life” perfectly fits this story.
As you look back on Roma, these special moments will be stuck in your mind when most of everything else has already faded away. Just like your actual memories. When you have finished a mountain trek, you don’t remember much of climbing this and that rock. You do recall easily when you reached the peak or when you took a much-needed break and had a nice chat with your friends. That’s exactly how Roma works.
The film does have its hard-hitting moments. They come in the worst possible time for the protagonist and happen all at once, when the audience and Cleo are least ready. It is a 10-minute sequence that vastly contrasts the rest of the low-key, measured drama in the film. It is full of all kinds of visual and emotional horrors. Those several scenes make you realize that you have taken every calm, casual moment from Cleo’s life for granted, particularly the ones that might have bored you.
The Consistent Beauty Reveals the Drama’s Partial Weaknesses
In all fairness, there are a couple of scenes, in which style definitely takes over substance. The film remains a delight to look at all the way through but in some instances the characters do too little and the events seem to insignificant and unrelatable. It’s part of the film’s narrative language but it is there and both passionate film scholars and casual viewers will notice it.
Cuaron’s film does require a certain amount of patience. It is the type of patience every fan of cinema needs to spare for special and different works like this one. Regular moviegoers will more than likely be left unsatisfied with the simple mix of mundane every day lifestyle events and gorgeous cinematography. This is inevitably, the price a film has to pay for depicting human life as truthfully as Roma does. There are no big speeches, emotional monologues, rounded story arcs or satisfying conclusions.
Life as Cinema
Don’t be surprised if Roma doesn’t immediately blow you away. The film revolves around an ordinary life story – no more, no less. What is extraordinary is the execution and the way it allows for the tiniest experiences to stand out. After all, ask yourselves what the most memorable moments in your life are and how would they work in a 2-hour film. Alfonso Cuaron’s got the answer.
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