Roma ★★½


Wasn't even feeding into my most deep-seated contrarian instincts as the credits rolled and I asked myself, “what do people see in this?” Perhaps I know too much about Cuarón and his obsession with ostentatious construction to not be annoyed by the barrage of slowly oscillating (and equally inconsequential) long takes. Seriously, over half the movie is filmed like the final scene of THE CONVERSATION; at least there it served a metaphorical purpose. While others have cited “immersion” and “engrossment,” I find this hey-look-at-me! formalism at constant odds with the intended neorealist intimacy. For such an ornate design to work, the story itself has to operate with a likeminded remove (e.g. see: Most films by Hal Hartley or Wes Anderson), resulting in a complementary construction where Style and Substance are harmonious. In ROMA, however, similar to CHILDREN OF MEN before it, the presentation directly cripples the gravity of the subject matter. Makes me wonder how I’d react to this if it remained largely/completely crisis-free. Cuarón’s fashioning of drama is more cloying than truly moving, his inclusion of foreboding imagery too mechanical and coarse: “Cleo, go look at the newborns,” accompanied by an earthquake and closing on a glovebox premie covered by rubble; an extended close up of spilt pulque and a broken mug directly following a toast to Cleo’s baby’s health; an oneiric pictorial of a man calmly singing during a forest fire while background pandemonium ensues; Cleo being the only person of hundreds capable of performing the warrior’s balance; even the lauded beach debacle is telegraphed clumsily, ending with a tableaux of actors robotically huddling into position on the shore, the valiant maid assuming the centripetal location as if to signify her role as the family’s true nucleus. The sentiment is there, yes, but 95% of the film’s stabs at emotion wind up pinned inelegantly under the decorative chassis. The hospital sequence—arguably the film's most devastating moment—left me more dazzled by the execution than ruptured by the tragedy. I find that problematic. Impressive showmanship, but what exactly is it in service of? Final note: The feminist bent doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it does some others, apparently, but Cuarón’s overarching thesis that it’s enough to quell gigantic socioeconomic gaps feels markedly naive.

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