Rated R for full-frontal kung-fu. Now, this descriptor alone should at least raise eyebrows. Nope. Whatever image you have in your head, shift your perspective. It's mildly horrifying. It's meant to be. Like, there aren't ninjas in this movie or anything. The guy shows off his sweet bow skills, Napoleon Dynamite style, using a shower curtain while naked. Also, there's just baby death all over this over. Really, tragedy strikes time and again. There's language. I mean, like...it's R.
DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuarón
I don't even know how to get this idea. It keeps coming back to this: I am a huge hypocrite when I watch movies. I decide that some movies are allowed to do things and other movies can't do that. Yeah, it's because I'm a shallow human being and I'll die, leaving behind no actual rules of film. Heck, this blog might be facing its death knells in the next year. I don't know. We'll see what happens. Roma is straight-up the most boring of the Academy Award Best Picture nominees. I had to turn it off the first time I tried watching it because I was fighting sleep so hard that I was hallucinating events that didn't happen in the movie. I honestly thought that there were Nazis in this movie because I kept drifting off. I was far more awake the second time I watched it. But by the end, I had to actually make myself uncomfortable so I could stay awake. It sounds like I really hated it. While I didn't love it, I still overall enjoyed it. That being said, I couldn't wait for this movie to be over.
Yeah, that's not the best thing to say about a movie, let alone one that I claim that I really liked. Alfonso Cuarón keeps doing me solids by making me amazing movies. People who hated Gravity, you probably wanted to hate Gravity. I know that statement is overly confrontational, but the hate that Gravity got was silly. I had a really good time at that movie. But if Gravity is the really interesting movie that didn't have the substance of his other films, Roma is the opposite. Roma isn't at all fun, but it has substance all over that film. Part of the movie that gets me is the sheer amount of trauma that this one woman receives throughout the course of one movie. Analyzing Cleo is almost frustrating because there's a lot going on there. Now, I know that Yalitza Aparicio is up for an Academy Award for Best Actress. She's very good, especially considering that she isn't a trained actress. But I also want to say something that isn't really being addressed. Cleo is one emotion for most of the film. She is flat affect and responds to tragedy through stoicism. I know. That is phenomenal. But it also doesn't really show range. It works for Roma. She services the film phenomenally by maintaining that face through the entire film. But it's weird that she's up for Best Actress. But that's all on the side. I want to say that Cuarón is making a movie about the disparity of class on emotional maturity. SPOILER STUFF mainly because I'm figuring out my analysis as I write it. Cleo and Sofia are simultaneously going through these tough times simultaneously. Sofia's cross is obvious in all that she does. While she is not sharing her trauma, the fact that she is holding onto some deep secret is painted in everything that she does. She has the privilege to emote. From a dramatic irony perspective, we can easily read what Sofia is going through. But that is almost a luxury. We still sympathize with Sofia's tragedy because it is objectively terrible. Cuarón gives all these hints to what is happening with her. Heck, he doesn't even really try to hide the cause of her misery. It is central to her character. But I say this in comparison to Cleo, who is constantly meeting adversity with adversity, yet doesn't treat her trauma like a cross. The difference of the haves and have-nots are how they view their adversity. Sofia has to work to keep it together every day. She needs to worry about her kids and worries about her emotional health with everything that she does. If I knew Sofia, I would say that she carries her emotional baggage really well. She stays strong for the children, losing her cool only at the crippling moments. But to look at Cleo, she never really thinks about breaking down. From Cuarón's perspective, it looks like he's telling the theme of strength through poverty. But the end of the movie kind of shifts that entire idea.
Cleo's breakdown in the car is very tempered, compared to what we see in Sofia. But her breakdown is the same. Roma doesn't really feel like a story advocating for the mental health field. I don't think even once do we see someone consider getting outside help to deal with all of these issues. But Cleo's flat affect is a mask for what she is feeling. It never feels like a dodge or a lie. But it actually feels like Cleo refuses to let these moments affect her. Like we see her handle these situations with seeming grace, I believe that Cleo believes the same thing about herself. Her trauma is brutal. Like, it's really brutal. I'm thinking back to some of these moments. It's weird that I think the movie is boring throughout because so much of the movie is steeped in really uncomfortable moments. Again, you see multiple dead babies throughout this movie. Cleo is capable of feeling happy because we see her happy. But these moments are almost there to serve as juxtaposition for the unhappiness that permeates this character's life. But Cleo is in desperate need for a support system, regardless of access to therapy. She has a friend and co-worker at the beginning of the movie, but she hardly plays a role in the grand scheme of the film. Instead, she finds herself with Sofia, who is not cruel to her. But she also separates herself from Cleo, who is always the hired help. But the father of her child is a complete psychopath. By the way, good job, Alfonso Cuarón, for creating one of the best hate-able characters I've seen in a while. I can't stop comparing him to Napoleon Dynamite. Imagine Napoleon Dynamite, but just the worst. The movie is called Roma, based on the neighborhood where it takes place. That's a bit confusing because I'm sure that Rome would come into play somehow, but that's besides the point. I've never seen a setting that adds to the trauma of the entire experience. That area of Mexico seems absolutely terrible. It's not like it's a matter of poverty, but Cuarón paints his locations with such detail that are overwhelming. In the course of the film, Cleo survives an earthquake that kills a baby, a forest fire, nearly getting hit by a car, pregnancy and abandonment, a stillborn child, nearly losing her charges to drowning in the course of one second, riots in the streets, a gun pointed at her, and more stuff that I can't even think of right now. Does God want her dead? It seems like very little of this stuff is Mexico stuff, shy of the riots. Rather, this all seems like she is Job. She is constantly taking abuse for only a few things that she had involvement in. The pregnancy thing you can give or take, but even that seems to be unforeseen circumstances because that guy seemed like a big dork, not an evil monster.
Black-and-white doesn't make the movie boring. I really don't want anyone to be walking away from this thinking that I don't like monochromatic film. I love me black-and-white and Cuarón makes it work. But the movie almost feels like a neorealist Italian film with just insanely long cuts. If you had to say what a pretentious movie looked and felt like, Roma would probably fall into that category. Roma seems to be an attempt to make a movie like something out of yesteryear. It feels more like Umberto D with just an insane budget. I can't get over how many people are involved in every shot in this film. It's just thing after thing happening in every scene with the exception of the main character. Yeah, the movie should be named after its setting because the setting is doing a lot of the heavy lifting for the film. But the movie drags because of the painfully long edits and cuts. We really stay in the moment. But the thing that the long cut does is make us feel the repercussions of every decision. That what neorealistic Italy did and it works. But there are just times that I want the movie to move on and pick up some of the pace. It's not bad, by any means. The thing is, if Cuarón did decide to make shorter cuts for things, I don't know if the movie would have the emotional resonance that the movie does have at this point. It's a very solid film and it works as a whole. The second that the movie ended, I was super happy that I had seen it. It's very very good. It's just something that wouldn't necessarily scream Academy Awards to me. It does its job. It is a fancy pants movie and I love fancy pants movies. But this felt almost trying too hard. It is unforgiving and unsympathetic to its audience. But that gambit works in terms of how you leave the movie. I was genuinely moved by the end of the film. It's not perfect and I hope I don't have to watch it again any time soon. But for now, it did everything it needed to.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.