14 December 2018 | gortx
Cuaron's lovely ode to his childhood in Mexico City
The title refers to the neighborhood in Mexico City where Director Alfonso Cuaron grew up in the 70s. It could just have easily been entitled 'Libo' for the movie is the filmmaker's reflection on the woman who helped raise him - his family's maid. The fictionalized story renames the woman Cleo (a lovely natural performance by newcomer Yalitza Aparicio).
ROMA takes it's time developing its story-line. It's less a series of events, as much as an observation of a year in the life of Cleo and the family she cares for. It has been described, somewhat incorrectly, as Neo-Realist. Shooting in Black & White and having a story involving the poor does not automatically denote Neo-Realism. The movie is Cuaron's ode to his childhood. It's a memory movie, told from HIS perspective - not of Cleo's and the underclass. What makes the movie work is Cuaron's careful attention to the smallest details - simple eye contact, the food, child's play and washing dog droppings on the driveway. Important events happen to Cleo and the family, but, they are presented in the unhurried manner that feels truer than in most contrived screenplays.
The aforementioned Black & White cinematography is by Cuaron himself (his regular cameraman, Emmanuel Lubezki was unavailable). The camera-work feels very much 'directed'. At times, you can almost feel Cuaron steering the camera to capture exactly what Cuaron, the Director, feels is critical. The effect cuts both ways. On one hand, it becomes a true Auteur project (Cuaron also writes and is the co-editor!). On the other, it further emphasizes that this is CUARON's story, and not that of Cleo and the other characters. In that way, Cuaron comes between the viewer and the action on screen.
Much has been made about Aparicio's performance, and, it is a wonder. Much of the other cast are also non-professionals (in that way, it does have a connection to Neo-Realist cinema) and they perform ably. The other tech credits are solid, but, the main discussion has been on the 65mm Digital photography (a somewhat confusing moniker that has some believing it was shot on actual film). The larger sensor does give it a clearer image than traditional digital camerawork, but, seen in a movie theater on DCP, still lacks the richer black level and silvery white level of actual 65mm Film. For all the acclaim (and awards) Cuaron and ROMA's cinematography has gotten, it still resembled Grey & Greyer more than true celluloid B&W.
ROMA is a lovely memoir. It isn't a movie to be dissected as one would normally do for its plotting. It is best to let it wash over you - just as the movie frequently does with water flowing and jets gliding above.