Roma

Roma ★★

Roma has two very diferent impulses: one is trying to make a larger panel of Mexican society at the turn of the 70s with Cleo serving as it center and the other a nostalgic reverie, one that uses its aesthetic tour de force to justify every fetishistic detail it can throw at the audience. Cuaron knows his title will bring to mind Fellini who often also operate into such impulses, but as much as I think Fellini's navel gazing can be very annoying, it is also honest, his self comes first and that is it. Cuaron wants to have it both ways and that doesn't work. That means whatever the movie tries to operate into a larger net (be it recognizing Cleo's ultimate explotation or dealing with political unrest, it falls on its face).

Roma is at its best when it is just forcing the audience to take every inch of its lovely rendered details (be detail huge signifiers of wealth, pain or wonder), a sort of kind gentle version of "in your face" extreme cinema. To be fair, I thought all those elaborate movements to be rather dull, going from nullifying everyday life activity in name of some "high art" calling or elavating real state porn through Tarr/Tarkoviski-isms. One fascinating aspect: how the kids gaze complete dominate the process while the drama careful sidestep them. A very calculate dramatic movement, the helps to explain why the drama is so thin, but intriguing regardless.

Here in Brazil, there's been far more negative writing about the film's handling of Cleo than in US and that makes sense given how Brazil and Mexico have many social similarities. Full disclosure: i'm from a relative similar social background to Cuaron and had a nanny very much like Cleo and good chunks of Roma is very recognizable despite a couple of decades of difference. Some of Roma certainly plays different when you come from a society where having one or two maids is seem as a birthright as long as you were born with little (not much) money. I don't think it is quite right to claim Cuaron ignore those issues, Roma is about class and privilege (including the artist privilege of turning his memories into such a movie), he just hits a wall in how to deal with it beyond some bland gestures of recognition. The final result is that he can't offer much more than an update more self-aware version of his mother's paternalism. A small corrective, that still does little to upset the social order.

Roma is better when recognizing Cuaron own privileges and owning up to his power as major contemporary filmmaker, when it is more about 2018 Cuaron looking back to his youth (like the hilarious scene with Mooroned as over the top an ego trip as anything in current movies), on those terms Cleo gets lost in the shuffle, she might got a lot of screen time and the film might feel empathy for her suffering, but at the end of the day she is just another piece of furniture for Cuaron's panorama and his real subject how he is now able to do so.

At least he is honest enough to recognize he rather hit a well-lit pretty shot than find any social honest in his situations. That is his prerrogative as a filmmaker for better and for worse, if only those shots could exist beyond the still-lifes of Latin American middle upper class decay they are happy to settle for, maybe some of Roma could feel alive.

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