It’s a delicate perspective that teaches the value of letting the mind drive the body, much like Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful. Except now, it’s told through the eyes of a woman with minimal outward emotion expressed. Although it’s first important to know that this otherwise tremendous film in fact has a pretty bad screenplay; Roma is simply not personal enough with what it’s like for a single mother, considering nothing really happens to her, the grandmother, or the kids. They’re all emotionally distanced enigmas who pretty much just stand there as plot devices, not human beings.
Rather, the focus remains on the house maid, Cleo, whose mental state is shown to be crucial to success. Watching this production through her memory of serving this family has very intelligent establishments, even focusing in on a faucet dripping that connects back to Cleo’s shallow yet stern boyfriend using a shower rod for martial arts while he’s naked. Throughout these memories of a woman who only remembers the harsh, colorless moments as a maid, the creation of 1970’s Mexican culture is valuable for everyone to see. Inside the family’s walls, the television sets and cinema are both critical influences within this narrative. Outside the family’s walls, hail falls after a critical scene to pelt Cleo’s head until it melts into beads of sweat as she glistens during a stressful scene of labor.
It will be easy to remember these seemingly unimportant moments because director Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Gravity) knows personally how crucial the brain is, so immediately during the opening credits, he commands total control within the screen by lingering on floor tile that becomes flooded with soapy water, which reflects an airplane in the sky. It’s a unique, provocative image specifically designed to be remembered, especially since that floor tile in the narrow driveway becomes a character that gives Cleo enough reason to enjoy being dead… truly amazing how Cuarón can do that. In the narrow driveway, Cleo first sees the father of the family, as introduced by his car before any face is revealed. While it consequently means nobody in the film is easy to connect with like a new close friendship, the soul breaks through to spark the memory of how several young women would see their father during dark trials.
Then Cuarón goes right from here to give information about the family through the young boys playing with guns, which seems like nothing at first, but carefully doses some foreshadowing toward an eventual street riot. Even when things get chaotic, Cuarón keeps quiet spectacle going louder than any James Bond movie, to the point when even the performances shine when the camera lingers on the details of the home. He doesn’t need all these closeups, but naturally keeps his actors on the same page as they make art out of the problematic script.
The tone remains quiet as the camera very slowly pans through Cleo turning off all the lights downstairs before bed, which makes a powerful ocean moment near the very end permanently impressionable. Many scenes, especially that one, are all in one long take that allows the lush black and white imagery to test your eyes. In the end, the imagery goes beyond just being mere pixels on a screen—but the memories shared in the same way somebody in Cleo’s predicament would remember it, making you and her one in body and spirit.
That doesn’t mean this movie is for everybody. In fact, if you’re looking for something relatable in the instantly approachable sense, then the screenplay written by Alfonso Cuarón will not help. Unlike what the final moments of the film suggest, the idea never gets across that Cleo was ever a real sincere part of the family she serves. While it’s verbally communicated satisfactorily, it has much more potential than the final product. There are no real personal moments between Cleo and each of the family members to give you a clear sense of what their individual relationships are like, nor are there real personal moments between the sons and daughter, like this film pretends are there. It ultimately results in an incorrect message that humanity just exists without an end goal, that people might as well be passive since nothing we do really matters.
That henceforth categorizes Roma as a, “you either love it or you don’t” type of movie. That’s much what many of the old classics from the 1950s is like. For myself, after watching Roman Holiday, despite everyone calling it one of the greatest romantic comedies in history, I basically just went, “meh, now I can at least say I’ve seen it.” But there’s still an audience for it, as I know of an author in the UK who loves that movie! That’s how it will be for this film: If it doesn’t sound appealing, then you can look elsewhere for other experimental films that satisfy your taste buds. But if this quiet meditation on importance sounds like a stimulating experience, then jump right in.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
McCarthy, Todd. “'Roma': Film Review | Venice 2018.” Digital image. The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media, 30 Aug 2018. Web. <https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/roma-review-1137976>.
Netflix. Netflix, Inc. Web. <https://www.netflix.com/title/80240715>.