Roma ★★

There wasn’t a single review of Roma — for all the raves and stars showered on it by the critics — that made it sound like a movie I would wish to see. But it is Oscar season, and I like movies as an art form, and sometimes I drag myself out of my comfort zone to be in the conversation about the art form I love.

Well, it lived up or down or whatever to my sense of it.

I want a plot. Books, movies, TV, I want a plot. The obvious thing about Roma is that it doesn’t have one.  Read a rave review, and try and tease out the story. There isn’t one, and you cannot.  It is a year in the life of a housekeeper for a Mexican family. Stuff happens to her, stuff happens to the wife, to the kids, to Mexico.  Most of it isn’t very good for anyone.  Two hours of stuff happening.


The centerpiece of the movie — the housekeeper gets pregnant, her water breaks in the middle of a riot in which someone is shot to death in front of her in the furniture store where she is buying a crib, the riot etc. means that traffic is really bad getting to the hospital, and the birth is going to be fraught. And after that, it is kind of anticlimactic when our protagonist Cleo heads into the water when the kids go too far out and she saves the kids.  This adventure is happening on the day there is a family outing to get everyone out of the house while the kids’ father is coming by to take his belongings.

All this, just to say, the critics don’t have a word to say about the subject.  Their efforts to get us to see and appreciate this great art might be spoiled if they tell us that the movie is just a wee bit shy of bring the heartrending story of a hard life.  It ain’t. This isn’t something people need before brunch on a Sunday.

My tolerance for this would be increased if the movie had heart or soul, but rather surprisingly for a film that we are told is the director’s valentine to his own mother, the failing of the movie is in its utter inability to give us any window into the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the central character.  She is just there.  Things happen to her or around her and very little driven by the lead character.  Something like this could be a bildungsroman, but a good bildungsroman might be set against a backdrop of large events in the world beyond, but we do root for the lead.  In Roma, we just have to sit back and watch.  It is clinical, even more than Kubrick clinical. 

The movie is something to behold visually.  Filmed in 65mm black and white (and a shame no 70mm print to be found in New York) the images are crisp and beautiful in every frame.  It’s impossible not to look at a scene of an army of men training in a somewhere in Mexico for a something without admiring how it was done, or feasting on people crossing the main drag of a big city done up in every pixel in glorious period detail.  The photography, production design, anyone with anything to do with the richness of the images on screen has done a heckuva job.  And the sound design!  

But I rarely go to a movie just to look.

Hard to talk about the acting, because the script doesn’t give much for any of them to work with. 

Cuaron directed the best, by far, of the Harry Potter films.  Children of Men is indelible.  Up with Gravity!

This? Either just not for me, or too much like the emperor’s new clothes, and not sure which.