Cinema: 'Roma' A Boring Masterpiece

Roma is a period drama, directed and written by the talented filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón. According to Cuarón himself at the Telluride Film Festival “this film is autobiographical, in the sense that 90% of the scenes come out of my memory.” The film is based on the life of Cuarón’s old nanny from his childhood and delves deep into her life and the challenges she had to face as a lower-class citizen in Mexico in the early 1970’s. The title of the film, Roma refers to the Colognia Roma, the street where the family in the film lives, and where Cuarón grew up. The film has all the beautiful qualities of a master director and cinematographer, but the plot of the film drags it down.

Roma follows the life of Cleo, a lower-class Mexican citizen, as she works for an upper-class white family with four kids.  Cleo also has a boyfriend named Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), who is a martial arts obsessed man, she sees on her free time. Things begin to change when the father of the family, disheveled Doctor Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), walks out and the grieving mother, Sofía has to raise the kids on her own without any financial support while relying almost solely on Cleo. Things are made even more difficult when Cleo realizes she is pregnant, and her boyfriend abandons her. However, when he finds out the child is his he threatens to kill her if she brings it up to him again so there is nothing she can do about it.

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Even though the film is autobiographical and comes from Cuarón’s childhood, the film rarely follows the family itself and spends most of its focus on the real star of the film, Cleo. Cleo is a silent and shy character played by Yalitza Aparicio, who before this film has never actually acted in anything before having been discovered by Cuarón in Oaxaca, a city in Mexico. Though her work as Cleo, is a mature and amazing performance, focusing primarily on shy facial expressions and subtle body movements to reveal how her character is thinking in many of the scenes.

The real impressive part of this film isn’t in the characters or the acting but the amazing cinematography. The man behind all the talented cinematography in the film was Cuarón himself. Cuarón makes excellent use of panning away from characters at the end of a shot to show just a little bit more information about the world around them. He also does everything in his power to make sure that the film feels as real as it possibly can.  One of the ways he does so is by only using diegetic sounds in the film, the use of only natural sounds to try and establish a sense of realism in the film

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While the look and acting of the film is amazing and beautiful, the film is still lacking in terms of story and fails at representing its themes. The film does its best to illustrate the differences between the two economic classes in Mexico using Sofía’s family to represent the upper class and Cleo represents the lower class. The family treats her very well, she has plenty of free time as she goes to the movies, regularly exercises, and is able to go out to the movies. Throughout the story most of the hardship that Cleo faces seem to not affect her. Whether it’s fires, earthquakes, or riots Cleo comes out of almost all of them completely unscathed  by any of it making most of the negative thing that happens to her just feel like a minor inconvenience, which in a story that tries all it can to feel real, pulls you out of the realism that is set up by the cinematography.

Roma is one of the most beautifully filmed movies of the year but fails to capture me in terms of story. The story of a woman just living through her pregnancy isn’t a very compelling, it’s made worse when every event is shaken off like minor inconveniences. Despite the fantastic performances by the cast, especially Aparicio and Tavira, the film has a plot that just doesn’t capture me.