Roma: A Spanish Slice of Life in Black and White
Spoiler Alert: This film is on Netflix, so I don’t want to hear any garbage excuses as to how you didn’t want to pay $14.95 to see this thing, or how you caught the flu and couldn’t make the trip out to the theater for six weeks. That being said, I will be hinting at parts that occur throughout the movie, so if you haven’t seen it yet, check out my “Too Long, Didn’t Read” synopsis and my “Oscar Watch” analysis instead.
TL;DR Score and Synopsis: 82/100 – Great all-around film that lacked a true “x-factor”
To the Review!
After hearing words in the critic sphere like “masterpiece”, “one of the best movies I’ve ever seen,” and “a majestic feat of filmmaking” to describe Alfonso Cuaron’s newest passion project, “Roma,” I jumped at the first chance I could possibly get and saw it the moment it came out on Netflix. Obviously, I started watching his newest work with “middle of the road” expectations. Clearly, people thought this film was an average flick that brought nothing new to the table. Sarcasm aside, the burning question throughout the film for me was: “Will this live up to these expectations?”
Before answering that question, I will point out that “Roma” portrayed a unique “slice of life” perspective on the everyday struggles of a nanny in Mexico City, along with the family she takes care of. There is, quite simply, no film like this one. Cuaron took a unique path with this one and never looked back. I will also give you a very fair warning that I did not mentally prepare for going in: you will see a scene with a completely naked dude (penis included) doing ninja-karate stuff that goes on for approximately 1-2 minutes. I was not ready for it, but now you have no excuses and I don’t want to hear any “scarred for life” jokes because I WARNED YOU. It’s not even one tenth as scarring as the peach scene in “Call Me By Your Name” (anyone who has seen this film knows what I am talking about), but still, I found it weird. Seriously dude, just put a pair of pants on or something, you did not impress anyone with your moves.
Let’s dissect this film.
From an aesthetics standpoint, the decision to make this film black and white puzzled me at first. I wanted to see the vibrancy of the area, and oftentimes, with greater color variance, there comes more opportunity for the film to flex its creative muscles. As the film went on, I began to not only understand the choice behind this, but greatly appreciated it. The production team worked with an inordinate amount of different shades for the two colors, which injected a life of its own into the fray. They also made the film strictly in Spanish, which made perfect sense when considering the setting. I know some people do not like reading subtitles, but it did not detract from anything for me.
The style set the tone in an interesting way, and many of the characters I found to be, at the very least, sympathetic. The protagonist, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) showed some nice depth, and the actress really sold the character in a big way. You could see her beautifully walk the line between struggle and serenity. She clearly underwent all kinds of issues throughout the film, but the brave face she put on in front of the family seemed believable.
I liked the family Cleo looked after for the most part. They seemed like good-natured children, and the dialogue/acting performances they all put on seemed realistic. They never really explored any depth with these characters, but I let that slide because the film wanted to focus primarily on Cleo and the adults. The mother, Sofia (Marina de Tavira), was an underrated character. She showed poise, grace, and elegance in times of hardship. I rooted for her from start to finish.
Despite some nice characters I enjoyed seeing on the screen, one complaint I have revolved around some of the insanely unsympathetic characters in “Roma.” Two people specifically bothered me: Sofia’s husband and the guy that got Cleo pregnant. I don’t usually make a point to say something like this, but F%^k those guys. These men pulled some grade-A BS and made those people who go on Jerry Springer look like upstanding citizens.
It pissed me off to no end, but what also irked me was the caricature-like nature of the two suitors. Their development arcs were incredibly weak across the board. Look, I get it, some men are total pigs, but these elements seemed forced, wooden, and one-dimensional. Life is often times a lot more complicated than this, and “Roma” grossly oversimplified this dynamic. To be fair, Director Alfonso Cuaron is recalling his childhood in this film, and it is very possible those men in his life were simply THAT awful. I cannot discount that. Regardless, this aspect of the film came across as shallow.
When the second half of the movie picked up and some of the characters could reveal more of their true shades of black and white (I would say “colors” like a normal person, but the movie didn’t have any), everything moved along beautifully. However, the first third started off slow. I found myself wondering if this was just going to be one of those art films that completely went over my head, or if I could gather some takeaways from it. In the end, it was mixed.
Some powerful moments enthralled me and really made me think, while others completely fell flat. For instance, I loved the camaraderie between the kids and the nanny, along with the symbolism behind the last two to three scenes (I won’t be revealing anything about these scenes). The juxtaposition between all of the social tensions/protests in the streets, along with the life of the family was really interesting. We often times get so wrapped up in the big picture events in the news, that we forget that ordinary people are still living normal lives in spite of all of it. Highlighting this fact intrigued me.
However, one of the messages “Roma” tended to hint at revolved around the idea that “women are always alone.” It was not only incredibly cynical, but also not particularly well developed given how the filmmakers tried to show this “lonliness” stemmed from the behavior of two reprehensible men (no need to get into this again though, you get my point). In a nutshell, the messaging was “hit or miss.”
“Roma” utilized ample symbolism throughout the course of the film. As mentioned before, some was seen with relative ease, but other moments lost me. It reminded me of when I first watched “Birdman.” I sat there thinking “someone much more artistically gifted clearly gets what the meaning behind this is, but all I see is some dude imagining himself flying around in a bird costume wreaking havoc on everyone.” They seemed to go a little overboard on it at times, trying to make every single moment poetic as opposed to simply advancing the plot to the next point.
Perhaps I just need to watch this again, but “Roma,” in my mind, lacked the “x-factor” most film critics like to tout as a “masterpiece.” Nonetheless, it offered a majestic, symbolic journey filled with interesting twists and turns. I strongly commend Alfonso Cuaron for his unique passion project.
It will take nothing short of the Oscars getting cancelled this year for “Roma” to not land a “Best Picture” nomination (which given the recent scandal behind Kevin Hart, I guess this isn’t as far-fetched as I originally thought at the beginning of the season). Crazier things have happened (see: The “Miracle on Ice” in 1980), but you’re looking at a 99 percent chance that this movie not only gets nominated, but also becomes a serious contender to win the whole thing. Aside from “Best Picture”, a few other categories come to mind for nominations. I will sort them into the following categories: Near shoe-in to win, serious contender likely nomination, and possible nomination:
Near Shoe-in to win:
Best Foreign Language Film: Given that “Roma” currently is in the mix to win the whole thing amongst the movies with English as the predominant spoken language, and given that all the other foreign language films in this category will NOT be nominated for “Best Picture”, the logical conclusion is that “Roma” should win this category. If for some reason the Academy decides not to nominate this film for foreign language accomplishments, they got some explaining to do.
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron: He poured his heart into this film, and crafted a beautiful piece of art from start to finish. He will get nominated barring an uncovering of homophobic tweets. I do not want to single out instances of where that has happened, but Kevin Hart, I am looking right at you. Sorry man, had to throw in a cheap shot in there. Your net worth is roughly a gazillion bucks more than mine, so feel free to fire back saying something along those lines.
Best Original Screenplay: Certain specific lines stuck out, but the writers’ ability to capture the essence of child dialogue stole the show from a screenplay perspective.
Best Cinematography: Beautifully shot film that felt majestic. The black and white element to everything certainly helped capture the essence of “Roma” as well. There was a lot to set itself apart from the pack in this category.
Best Actress: Yalitza Aparicio: Her performance possessed an impressive range and her character was super sympathetic. It is doubtful that she will win the award, but she should be at the very least in the discussion for a nomination.
Best Production Design: Given the accuracy of the setting to capture the time period of “Roma”, coupled with the dynamic locations they shot the film in, a nomination in production is not completely out of reach.