Roma ★★½

Quite the comedown after the masterful Gravity, Roma sees Cuaron trafficking in the overfamiliar observational style that dominates so much contemporary world cinema. Although shot in lustrous black-and-white with more attention paid to period detail than is the norm, this film’s approach is anything but novel. This is surely a situation where expectations are affecting my judgment somewhat, but had I not known the director of this film going in, I would have not thought it any more impressive than a dozen other small-scale family dramas that I’ve seen this year. Invocations of Fellini to describe the aims here are not incorrect, yet there seems to be a questionable aspect to this film’s politics hiding behind its bland affirmations of female unity. After a nearly plotless first half, the film whips itself into a momentary frenzy for a sequence involving a student riot that is so decontextualized (except via association with the film’s “villain”) that it’s tempting to see the film’s attitude as reactionary. Given the climactic moment, which occurs a few scenes later, with half the cast swept up by literal waves, it’s more likely that Cuaron thinks that by focusing intently on the personal he can avoid historical implications, yet such an attitude only further indicates the level of hermetic nostalgia that defines this vaguely humanist and proudly self-indulgent exercise.

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