Reid Hardison’s review published on Letterboxd:
Here is a key reminder to myself that seeing a film more than once can prove incredibly vital when it boils down to zeroing in why you feel the way you feel about a film.
I believe I originally slapped Roma with a 4.5/5, and while I would not call my original score disingenuous, I would say that it was presumptuous in that I thought I liked the film more than I actually did, and that’s a primary result of being in denial based off of incredibly high expectations, expectations that stemmed from the immensely positive reception the film received, along with a predilection to the bulk of Alfonso Cuarón’s work. I was, in a sense, deceiving myself, because even while watching it the first go-around I knew I wasn’t obtaining the same level of immersion that most people were.
Now having finally seen Roma a second time, I can at least say that (for the time being) it is in many regards a great film, but a film that regularly feels at odds with itself, which ultimately comes down to a fundamental disagreement that I have with the way Cuarón chose to direct it.
This film is meant to serve as a time capsule into Cuarón’s childhood, but of course it’s told through the unique perspective of the household maid, Cleo, and her experience isn’t merely meant to depict another family’s experience. Instead, Cuarón clearly chooses to focus on her experiences while keeping his own as a background element, window dressing if you will. I love the idea presented, but I can’t seem to gel with the way it’spresented.
The film is shot in a highly observant fashion, with the camera placed from afar, simply watching life unfold as it may. The presentation by all intents and purposes is astonishing from a technical perspective, but this exactly where I feel the film is at odds with itself. It’s so focused on capturing the physical and audible details of the environment that film is only immersive from a superficial point-of-view. The distant perspective leaves me feeling cold, emotionally speaking.
It fails to reach the familial closeness and intimacy that I feel is required in depicting something that is so clearly meant to be perceived as personal. I feel like an outsider looking in, and not in the way that Cleo is an outsider looking in, I mean as a viewer, and that in of itself would indicate that I found the storytelling to be fairly disengaging.
Yalitza Aparicio is amazing, that I can say with utmost certainty. As a viewer, I was able to latch onto Cleo almost immediately, and that’s a testament to the way she was written and performed, but once again, I feel like the direction so quickly gets in the way, almost as if it’s telling me to redirect my attention from Cleo to the sizeable ambition of recreating Mexico in the 1970s.
Cuarón is a master, and there’s no question about that, but this is a case where I feel like his craft as a technical director is intercepting his craft as an emotional storyteller, therefore rendering me unable to latch onto the film in a truly meaningful capacity.