Roma Review: A Mexican Man's Interpretation of Cinema
This award contender for its cinematography feat might resonate with general audiences for its "Indy" cinema prestige, but resonates with me because of its language. I don't just mean this literally. The fact that it's a foreign language movie that incorporates Spanish and Mixteco, a native Mexican language, is part of it, but the movie communicates the same way older cinema does using a Classic Film "language".
Being completely honest, it took me a long time to get around to watching Alfonso Cuarón's flick because the setting for the plot didn't really interest me. This is coming from a Mexican man who resided in Roma for a while. The fact that it's sitting on a streaming service instead of in theaters didn't help either. (I haven't watched Bird Box and parts of Black Mirror because I don't feel any urgency with anything on Netflix, but that's a different conversation for another post.)
It wasn't until I heard all the positive buzz around the movie that I finally gathered my family to watch a movie that reminded me a lot of Classic Cinema. No, it's not just because it was in black-and-white, but because the story was tepid and it took a passive pace. None of these are bad by the way. I enjoyed the movie immensely. It's lingering shots that gave context to the life-style, the almost satirical side-plot of the boyfriend that mirrors something out of a Wes Anderson film, and the panoramic long shots of someone running all felt like this was meant for a past era. I'm not sure if that's what Cuarón was trying to invoke in the way the film was shot, but that's what translated to me. Especially if you're from Mexico, you know that this movie fits well in the country's cinematic history beautifully.
The movie communicates a simple story about a Mixteco woman who basically travels through regular trials of the time. Interpreting a lot of loss and misfortune with a backdrop of historic importance. Now, even as someone whose heritage comes from set pieces of this film, I had to do a couple of Google searches to understand when in time we were and what political movement we were watching. My whole family had assumptions as we were watching from the comfort of my parent's living room and had to stop the movie to figure out what was happening. This is the one flaw I see in this movie. I believe Cuarón was so close to this practically biographical film that he forgot to clue the audience in on what was happening.
While not knowing my Mexican history to a tee didn't take away from my enjoyment of the movie, context would've been nice. If this had been in theaters I wouldn't had the opportunity to stop and do research, but when watching a movie I shouldn't have to. Unless that was what the movie creators wanted of us. The more personal story was the draw though, and I believe that Yalitza Aparicio deserves all the praise for not being an actress and managing to drive the movie in full force. There's an especially moving scene that didn't let me believe this woman had not acted a day in her life before this movie.
After Gravity, a movie I didn't particularly enjoy, Alfonso Cuarón delivers hard and well communicating classic film language with a modern sensibility that's almost haughty. The many award nominations and wins this movie is getting and will get are all deserved. While I would've preferred to have watched this in theaters this Mexican man's interpretation of cinema deserves the prestige it's getting.
If you can read Spanish I suggest you also take a look at what Guillermo del Toro had to say about this film in a series of tweets. Roma is presently available in Netflix.