Here is a beautifully filmed movie from Alfonso Cuarón, who won Academy Awards for directing and editing the gripping 2013 film Gravity.
It is a deeply personal effort — set in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City, in a house very like the one where Cuarón was raised, in a family very similar to his own and in the early 1970s when he was a child. Its main character is Cleo, the housekeeper/nanny who is much like the woman who helped raise Cuarón and to whom the film is dedicated.
It is a beautiful observation of all these moments and people, and many critics think it is the best movie of the year.
I’m not so sure.
The point of Roma is the depiction of a native woman who has come from the country to work for a family. She is hardworking, loving and kind. Without a movie like this, we would never have a chance to meet such a woman and appreciate the life she lives — part employee, part family member.
There are long, leisurely scenes of Cleo at work, Cleo helping the children and Cleo occasionally bearing the brunt of tension between the children’s parents, whose marriage is coming apart.
Cleo also is passive, which is not surprising given her station in life. So the movie gives her a boyfriend who abandons her when she is pregnant, reports of political unrest and a picture-window view of 1971’s Corpus Christie riot in which paramilitary enforcers killed 100 protesting students, plus a very painful childbirth experience.
Cuarón spent more than 10 years thinking about and planning this movie. He casted it almost entirely with non-professional actors who acquit themselves well, including Yalitza Aparicio, a preschool teacher from Oaxaca whose portrayal of Cleo feels true. The director also wrote the screenplay and kept it entirely to himself, revealing each day’s shooting scenes to the actors just before the cameras rolled.
The result is moving but not the kind of cinema that large audiences are going to find satisfying. It feels like family life, which, when you think about it, includes events in sequence but not large plot arcs. Things just happen. Time goes by.
The film was purchased initially by Netflix, which planned only to stream it for its 140 million subscribers. Later, after critics lauded Roma following showings at film festivals, the movie was released in a few theaters, perhaps to make it eligible for prizes in the coming award season. It is now available on home screens and still at some theaters.
Viewers who admire good cinematography should see the movie on a large screen in a theater because, as I keep saying, it is beautiful.
The most popular films at the moment are Aquaman, which introduces yet another comic book hero; a sequel to Disney’s 1964 Mary Poppins; an eighth, really nice Transformers movie based on the popular children’s toys from 1980s and 1990s; and an all-new Spider Man movie, the seventh
It’s tempting to conclude that the point of movies like these is to sell affiliated toys and T-shirts.