Roma (2018) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Roma (2018)

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As the tumult builds in Mexico City, Cleo works to keep her employers happy and needs fulfilled. Alfonso Cuarón wrote the screenplay for and directs Roma, which stars Yalitza Aparicio.

Over the course of two hours and some change, Roma drip-feeds us a steady intake of gorgeous poison. The patient cinematography, courtesy of director Alfonso Cuarón, pans repeatedly with an impassive eye as Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) navigates rooms with sturdy beams keeping each dweller in their own universe. She's little more than a pet to the family that employs her as each resident has motivations as separate and sturdy as the pillars that keep the home up. Across the rooftop there's another servant doing the same, and the camera pans more to reveal another, and another, and another. All trapped in the same cycle of servitude and pain.

This reads cynical but Cuarón's carer is peppered with cynicism. Roma, for all its beauty, takes place in a world no less apocalyptic than the one Cuarón created in Children of Men. There, at least, was a film that suffocated us in despair until a single cry from one baby is enough to stop a war that's been boiling under the surface. With Roma a baby is just another baby, not worth stopping the world over, and the machinations of privilege that keep Cleo from living a safe and happy life continue on after the credits have dropped. Here is reality with no savior within sight.Cuarón had to make this film beautiful, not as a means of playing a sick joke on us, but because the beautiful glimpse of upper class living in Mexico City is a false hope. To mire a film this personal and brutal in kitchen sink realism denies us the understanding of how we permit upper classes to exist in the first place. There's the forever illusion of having those means within reach, as exemplified in the quiet opening passages of Cleo working, only for the reality of labor to highlight that what we see and what Cleo has access to is a temporary illusion.  The window reflected in Cleo's cleaning water explains as much. She can only see in, not partake of, and the illusion exists only so long as her labor is necessary.

The gorgeous black and white photography also helps the most cynical aspects of Roma land with painful clarity. Three cribs of premature babies, all sustained by technology, cut to three tiny graves with crosses after the slightest disturbance of the hospital's ability to sustain them. What once were humans are now symbols as the material necessity of the hospital collapses into religious uncertainty. It's easier to process symbols than it is the human failings that give them power. Cuarón has no patience for imagery that doesn't underline the human cost and with moments like this he is brutally clear about the human cost of conflict and indifference.

This centers around Cleo and Aparicio's performance which - to be absolutely clear - is one of the best I have seen. Aparicio here in Roma does with her body what Renée Jeanne Falconetti did with her face almost a hundred years ago in The Passion of Joan of Arc. Aparicio gives herself completely to the camera with barely any words spoken. Sometimes she takes her sincerity to funny places, like when she responds with an intriguing mixture of embarrassment, fear, joy, and horniness watching her boyfriend Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) do martial arts in the nude. Rather than settle on one response, Aparicio allows Cleo's body to tense and relax with facial expressions to match as she tries to make sense of this silly man. She brings that same unguarded uncertainty to a moment of terrible loss and, where other performers might have cried or screamed, Aparicio inhabits Cleo so fully that she realizes no single response will do and never settles.

Aparicio's sort of "certain uncertainty" in her performance is the necessary partner to Cuarón's beautiful photography. She must inhabit this world where she is all things to all the people who employ her (and their coworkers, and their friends, and so on) in order to maintain the illusion of well-oiled domesticity for her employers.  All this while Cuarón shows just what this world is selling for those that can afford it.I enjoyed Roma insofar as a film this bleak, if beautiful, can be enjoyed. No matter what I write now there is going to be some empty part of my analysis because of how thoroughly Cuarón expresses this specific point in time with Cleo that I will not have access to, and I don't think Cuarón is trying to create an access point. For example - to what degree is Sofía's (Marina de Tavira) cruel treatment of Cleo because of her mistreatment by her husband, and how much of it is because of the privilege her class allows her? De Tavira's performance ain't saying, as she switches from using Cleo like a pawn to hurt her husband to seemingly genuine despair so quickly I start to wonder if Cleo is simply better at playing the expectations game because she has to be. Even my political point of entry is skewed because the militia that makes life hell in Mexico City was trained by the United States' (my home) CIA, but there's no point where that'd directly acknowledged.

That's unfair of me because I have access to information, resources, and hindsight that Cleo does not. Roma is just about a poisoned dream and the woman trying to find peace within it. On that level, which spirals out into class analysis as sharp as Cuarón has ever created, it exceeds beyond expectation. We don't have to go to cinema always looking for answers and an experience, one as precise and powerful as the one Roma provides, needs to be enough. Roma is more than enough.

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Roma (2018)

Screenplay written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón.
Starring Yalitza Aparicio.

Posted by Andrew

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