Roma reviews

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Re: Roma reviews

Postby Uri » Sat Dec 15, 2018 6:12 am

Now that I’ve seen Roma, I read this thread fully, not only peeking to see what the overall impression people here have, and I guess that what I’m going to say will eco Marco’s sentiments.

Towards the end of this film, after nearly 2 hours, there’s the scene in the car of the family returning from the beach, the camera lingering on the faces of those people and all I could think was: who are they? I don’t know them. There are small blond boy, big boy, even bigger boy and girl. I knew more about the floor tiles of the house they live in – the opening sequence, among others, is indeed exquisitely made – then about them. None of them, nor the grandmother or the father or the other maid became distinctive (the mother is slightly more flashed out).
It’s an extremely beautifully made film – there are so many frames one can, well, frame. I’m sure every little bit featured in every single shot is meticulously thought of and placed, and as Tee said, it allows for countless re-visits. Still, my impression was that this is a facsimile of a 1960s-European-great-film, having, premeditatedly, if probably (hopefully?) not consciously, the motivation to be perceived as a “masterpiece” as its foremost creative drive rather than the essence of this particular narrative. And it works.

And it works because we live in strange times, when nobody knows shit anymore. In such times, when people are thirsty for some kind of certainty, confidence and declarative statements are thriving. Roma is an extremely confident piece of film making and it offers its seemingly deep, complex multi-layerness in a very obvious, easy to detect way. It’s the perfect sales pitch, if one is in the market for a current great film.

My inferiority-complex-based approach to Art is similar to Groucho Marx take on clubs - I need it to be elusive, to suggest hidden agendas, to be somewhat mysterious. Roma is so meticulously packaged, I found myself not really interested in exploring it. Tee mentioned the running gag of the car getting into the garage. Everything about it – from the role of the maids have in this ritual to difference in the way the father and the mother do it to the, indeed, dog’s excrement on the floor. One can come up with a master thesis on this stuff alone. Just the fact that at the end the big, ungainly American car is being replaced by a new, compact, Renault can evoke a lovely dissertation about the political shift from Yankee orientation to post 1968 French one. Why not. It’s there, lying on the surface, for us to pick.

Yes, there is richness of well thought of, elegantly presented stuff here, alas, what I missed was a voice. A point of view. Whose story is it? Fellini was mentioned here, and thinking about Amarcord, or Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander or Scola’s La Famiglia – all offered complex yet clear accumulation of voices – that of the child and that of that child’s adult self as well as a know all narrator weaved into coherent one. Here I didn’t get it. The choice of an “other” to lead us into the personal universe of the artist, while interesting (and fashionable), is not really worked out, certainly when it comes to the way the auteur’s family is presented.

And what does it say to us about Cleo, when she doesn’t offer us any real insight to the people who are supposedly in the center of her universe? What does it say about Cuaron’s take on her? There’s something so cautious about his approach – shedding an almost saintly, ultimately rather antiseptic, light on her – after all, she is his Maria Magdalena – the most prominent song featured here is Yvonne Elliman’s I don’t know How to Love Him. But it’s not really a child-like take on her, since the pov of the kids is not explored, nor is it a fully-fledged, revisionist take of her by the grownup director. He doesn’t seem to be able to truly understand her. And at the end I had a disturbing feeling that there is this undercurrent (which of course is spelled out literarily) that this is Cuaron’s way of justifying, emotionally if not intellectually, the lifestyle his family had and its privileges – among them having servants. Yes, family members were occasionally short tempered and took her for granted, but at the end, staying with them was the best thing for her to a point she was content loosing her own child and just be a surrogate mother to the onscreen Cuarons. And if there was any suggested ambiguity regarding that last notion, I missed it.

And yes, I didn’t watch this film fresh eyed. Maybe I would have been more easy on it if it wasn’t promoted as “one of the best films of the 21st century. A masterpiece”, “a personal and powerful masterpiece”, “full of compassion and beauty”, “Roma is Cinema in its purest and most human” (take this, Yuzuru Ozu!), “the best film of the year!” – all the about is taken from the ad on this weekend paper here lying in front of me. The little contrarian in me couldn’t be held back, I guess.

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Re: Roma reviews

Postby HarryGoldfarb » Fri Dec 14, 2018 5:35 pm

So Cooper won't get 5 Oscar nods since his songs weren't sumbitted... he's up now "just" for Picture, Director, Leading Actor and Screenplay. But Cuarón can easily achieve this feat: he individually is up for Picture, Director, Screenplay, Cinematography and Editing, though apparently the film's writing is not its major strenght. The Foreign Language Film likely nomination won't count for this specific feat.

Back in 1954 Walt Disney received 6 noninations (and won 4 awards), holding up to this point this record, but has someone received 5 nods for the same ceremony or would Cuarón become the closest to Disney in this achievement?
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Re: Roma reviews

Postby ITALIANO » Sun Dec 09, 2018 4:37 am

Mister Tee wrote:
ITALIANO wrote:
Mister Tee wrote:I don’t disagree with much of what Italiano says here, but I hold the film in higher esteem than he -- I’m more a masterpiece-half-full than masterpiece-half-empty guy..


Or maybe, simply, not a masterpiece at all, Mister Tee? :)


For the record, I mainly used that phrase for the glib sound of it. I'm still weighing the film's overall merits, as I thought my comments made clear, and I'm deferring final judgment till I've watched it again, which won't be till at least a week hence, when it touches down on Netflix.


Oh ok.

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Re: Roma reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sun Dec 09, 2018 1:46 am

ITALIANO wrote:
Mister Tee wrote:I don’t disagree with much of what Italiano says here, but I hold the film in higher esteem than he -- I’m more a masterpiece-half-full than masterpiece-half-empty guy..


Or maybe, simply, not a masterpiece at all, Mister Tee? :)


For the record, I mainly used that phrase for the glib sound of it. I'm still weighing the film's overall merits, as I thought my comments made clear, and I'm deferring final judgment till I've watched it again, which won't be till at least a week hence, when it touches down on Netflix.

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Re: Roma reviews

Postby ITALIANO » Thu Dec 06, 2018 4:01 am

Mister Tee wrote:I don’t disagree with much of what Italiano says here, but I hold the film in higher esteem than he -- I’m more a masterpiece-half-full than masterpiece-half-empty guy..


Or maybe, simply, not a masterpiece at all, Mister Tee? :)

As always, I read your reviews - ONLY after I have seen the movie - with attention. I don't always agree with you, but I find your views - especially, I'd add, when they are different from mine - at least interesting. They are admirably balanced, and often very personal, which is an aspect I absolutely value, and which I don't always find in other Americans writing here (Sabin and Big Magilla are other exceptions).

Yet, I don't know - this time there's something not completely convincing - and I'm not saying that it didn't completely convince ME, rather that it didn't completely convince you. You finish your post saying that Roma is a major work, but for once there's nothing in what you write before which supports this conclusion, which leads to it.

Take the famous beach scene. Now, it's not just that I hated it (I think I will never forget the final shot, with the two women and the children carefully embracing with all their faces towards the camera. I feel I've never seen anything more fake and obviously artficially planned - how many times did they have to rehearse it?!). I was actually anxious to consider an alternative opinion, and I got yours. And guess what? What you do is basically to repeat what Cuaron shows us. What the characters do, what the characters say. Don't get me wrong - that's the ONLY way to deal with that scene, so I'm not criticizing your approach here. But it says alot, I think. Because there's really nothing else, in that scene, which the writer/director doesn't openly says or shows. The subtext, which you believe you have found there and elsewhere in the movie, is just, and simply, text.

Now, I have to be fair and admit that THAT text is extremely well rendered and portrayed. It's true that from a purely formal point of view the movie is almost perfect. And I won't even say that form is not important - it IS, and not many directors today are as good at it as Cuaron is. But from a "major work" I expect more, frankly. Frigidness - even, or maybe especially, when it comes with beauty - can be as frustrating in films as it is in personal relationships.

I know now that this hasn't been a great year for American cinema. It happens. But this isn't a good reason to desperately find greatness where it doesn't exist. And at least we, men of a certain age, should see through the hype that these days is too often forced upon us. :)

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Re: Roma reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Wed Dec 05, 2018 5:34 pm

I don’t disagree with much of what Italiano says here, but I hold the film in higher esteem than he -- I’m more a masterpiece-half-full than masterpiece-half-empty guy.

I went into Roma with a heavy burden of expectation. It’s always daunting to watch a film when you’ve been told how great it is – many films over the years have disappointed me largely because of intense lead-in praise (The Social Network, 12 Years a Slave recent examples). A few have managed to satisfy me despite such advance adulation – Far from Heaven, Boyhood – but in those cases, my lack of love for their creators’ earlier works gave me an inner skepticism that helped lower the bar. Such was not available to me in this case. As anyone who’s been here a while knows, I have no insulation when it comes to Cuaron – I’ve been a fan since at least Y Tu Mama Tambien (maybe even A Little Princess), and a devotee since Children of Men. Combine that with the critical praise, and I probably went into this film with a higher level of excitement than for any film I can recall.

And Roma is the wrong kind of film to have such a bar set, because it’s far from a conventional narrative film. Particularly in its opening third or so, the film is episodic and impressionistic – not only taking its time introducing us to the situation and characters, but letting what story there is emerge largely by indirection. We’re shown the facts of the family break-up not head-on, but through overheard, elliptical conversations – the very way a housekeeper (or a child kept in the dark) would learn of such things. This works poetically, but it does keep the film at a bit of a remove. At this third-of-the-way point, I actively wondered if the film was just not for me – this despite the fact that, from the very start, there were memorable, even indelible images on display.

My opinion ultimately changed for a number of reasons. First would be that the film’s narrative did at last become more direct. I’m not sure at what point it began to turn, but by the time of the events of Corpus Christi, I was fully engaged. The sequences set on that day were not only viscerally dramatized, they worked to bring various strands of the film (the family, Fermin, Cleo’s own dilemma) together in ways I hadn’t expected. From there on, the film totally worked for me, as Cleo’s relationship with the family changed, reaching a crescendo in the beach scene, which was as powerful/unforgettable as anything I’ve seen on-screen this year. (More on that further on.)

My opinion on the film has also grown more positive the more I’ve had it play in my head in the hours and days since. First and foremost, I’m remembering just how many memorable images and sequences the film contains – from the aria sung in the foreground of the fire, to Cleo being the only one able to do the one-leg balance, to the family – just coming to grips with the news of their father -- sitting beneath that giant lobster statue while a gleeful wedding on the far side of the frame mocks their gloom. I found myself wanting to watch the film again immediately, to be able to gather all these images together in my head, see how they reflected on one another. I also wanted to better process the film’s themes, which seem to me even richer on reflection. Cuaron is clearly presenting/dealing with differing ideas of parenthood – not only between men and women (Cleo’s and Sofia’s being a world apart from Fermin’s and Antonio’s), but also between the classes (with Cleo shifting from adored caregiver to needing-to-be-disciplined domestic, depending on Sofia’s needs). Cuaron’s own position in all this is probably somewhere in the murky middle: as a child, he relied on/thrived from the nurturing from both his mother and his nanny…but as a grown-up he left Mexico (the idea behind the repeated airline imagery, I presume), which seems of a piece with the abandonment he associates with Fermin and Antonio. Also throughout, there are repeated motifs, water above all: as cleansing agent in the opening shot, as signal of the onset of birth at the crib store, as potential destroyer at the beach. All these things leave impressions in my brain that are vivid yet at the same time amorphous. Put it this way: while I’m glad I saw the film on a big screen, I’m thrilled it’s coming right to Netflix, so I can watch it repeatedly and reconcile all these feelings. I have the strong sense my final opinion has not yet been arrived at.

Though I don’t think there’s any doubt about Cuaron’s gifts as a director. The Fellini comparison seems pointless – if one must analogize this Cuaron effort to that of any mid-century director, deSica is a closer match. But why bother to do that at all, when Cuaron is so very much his own sort of artist? I think the visual style he was pioneering with Children of Men has taken a bold step forward here, and I think it’s his own and no one else’s. Other people use tracking shots, but most of them employ it for the sheer thrill of camera motion. Cuaron uses it (as I believe Italiano notes) to take us deeper into a moment: to show us stray details in the margins that affect our perception. (I’M GOING TO CITE SPECIFICS FROM HERE ON, SO, IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS, DEPART NOW) Consider the jaunt to the movies, where the kids run ahead and Cleo struggles to catch up. At first, we don’t know why we’re watching the sequence, but, when Cleo at last catches up, two things happen in quick succession: we see the kids taking the moment to peek at nudie magazines, and we see their father brush by with his new girlfriend. Neither moment is hit too hard, but what we’re seeing is basically two elements of growing up: horny puberty and parental disappointment. All in a flash, after which we move on. This is what Cuaron is capable of: telling stories through image alone. And he’s just as likely to achieve this through lack of camera movement -- as in the scene at the movies, where Cleo’s agonizing wait leads to the thing we hoped against hope wouldn’t happen…or the extraordinary hospital scene, that recalls the childbirth in Children of Men, to a totally different and devastating end.

Above all, there’s the beach sequence, which offers a combination of both stasis and tracking, demonstrates for us where in the family’s life Cleo fits (and vice versa), and creates nearly unbearable suspense. To set up the scene: Sofia gives Cleo a too-demanding charge, to take care of all of her children at once. This comes into conflict when Pepe falls in the mud and needs to be taken further ashore and washed, while Paco and Sofia Jr. linger by the shoreline. Every step Cleo takes is agonizing, for both her and us, as we sense it’s moving her further and further from being fully able to protect the older children. (That the scene is punctuated by Pepe’s insane ravings about his previous life is a wonderful, maddening touch.) By the time Cleo is able to reverse course, the surf has morphed into full-on monster, and it seems like tragedy might be unavoidable. But Cleo summons up the sort of adrenaline mothers are said to be capable of in extreme circumstance, and brings the kids back to shore. Following which, I think we get a sense that something has changed in the family. Sofia Sr. doesn’t, as we might fear, lambaste Cleo for not being attentive enough; instead, she accepts the children’s verdict that Cleo is the hero of the scene. And Cleo, in turn, blurts out that she didn’t want the baby she carried to stillborn status. You can see that as result of near-term trauma: she’s so emotionally drained by the experience that the revelation just jumps out. But I think it could also be an acknowledgement that these kids are her true family; that she wants no others, and she now feels free to declare that in retrospect.

A word about political context, which is treated lightly, mostly in background, but is not entirely missing. I’m told, by people familiar with the Corpus Christi massacre, that, for those who knew the event well, Fermin would have been suspect from the moment he started waving that pole around, because that was the preferred weapon of Los Halcones, the paramilitary group that the government sent in to fight the students. Such people would also have known what was coming when it was mentioned that “a gringo” had shown up at a training session – CIA having been sent in to help foment the counter-demonstration, yet another Nixon/Kissinger foreign policy ugliness. Cuaron has been quoted that, for many Mexicans, this was a moment when they stopped believing in the legitimacy/benevolence of their government, which led to his and others’ eventual decision to seek their fortunes elsewhere (again, the airplane imagery). It also ties in with an idea many pundits have offered about Trump’s support here: that he’s harnessed the hatred of what they call “lost boys” – young males frustrated by how disappointingly their lives have turned out, responding to demagogues who urge them to strike out at perceived elitist enemies (in the process serving the goals of economic elites). So, while the film would hardly be described as political at core, there are elements worth pondering.

As for the mundane question, is this an Oscar movie? – at first glance, I’d say it’s too complex for that. But all I see around me this year is problematic choices, and, after seeing No Country for Old Men, The Hurt Locker, Birdman and Moonlight win, I’m no longer certain what an Oscar movie is. I’ll be happy to see it all play out.

As I say, I plan to watch this again once it hits Netflix next week, and perhaps I’ll comment again if things resolve in my head. I have no doubt, though, that, whether fully realized or not, this is clearly a major work.
Last edited by Mister Tee on Thu Dec 06, 2018 8:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Roma reviews

Postby ITALIANO » Tue Dec 04, 2018 3:49 am

Greg wrote:
ITALIANO wrote:For a movie which could be the first foreign language film (The Artist doesn't really count) to win the Best Picture Oscar, I expected much, much more, honestly. Technically flawless, obviously made with great care, but sadly ultimately lacking a real "raison d'etre".


Well, Bergman, Fellini, De Sica, Kurosawa, et al., did do their best work in years where the Best Picture category was probably much more competitive than it will be this year.


Well :D ... Yes, probably - but I'd also say, in all honesty, that Bergman, Fellini, De Sica and Kurosawa are MUCH better directors than Alfonso Cuaron!

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Re: Roma reviews

Postby Greg » Mon Dec 03, 2018 7:55 pm

ITALIANO wrote:For a movie which could be the first foreign language film (The Artist doesn't really count) to win the Best Picture Oscar, I expected much, much more, honestly. Technically flawless, obviously made with great care, but sadly ultimately lacking a real "raison d'etre".


Well, Bergman, Fellini, De Sica, Kurosawa, et al., did do their best work in years where the Best Picture category was probably much more competitive than it will be this year.
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Re: Roma reviews

Postby ITALIANO » Mon Dec 03, 2018 6:23 pm

ITALIANO wrote:
Precious Doll wrote:At the end of the day I'll take Fellini over Cuaron any day. Actually I really should not even mention them in the same sentence.


Yeah, it made me cringe. Gravitt's directon AND Fellini?!


And I was right. To cringe, I mean. Yes, there is a scene which can be seen as a hommage to Fellini (you'll easily recognize it, at the martial arts training camp), but that's about it. As a memory piece, it definitely doesn't have the original vision of Amarcord, and it's much less affecting than many other movies of this kind (another which came to my mind is Louis Malle's Murmur of the Heart, but there are countless others, really).
Alfonso Cuaron is a good writer-director, and Roma is undeniably very well shot. Some individual scenes are exttemely well conceived and executed, with so many details even in the distant background, and an admirable sense of time and place. They are actually even too perfect sometimes - so carefully planned that they are never truly involving, and never really feel spontaneous. Emotional, Roma certainly isn't.
But most importantly, these individual scenes never coalesce to create a unified, organic whole - the movie isn't boring, but it's a piece of expert filmmaking which you look at with more admiration than interest (or, even less, love). It goes from scene to scene like its leading character does - nicely, but a bit passively.
For a movie which could be the first foreign language film (The Artist doesn't really count) to win the Best Picture Oscar, I expected much, much more, honestly. Technically flawless, obviously made with great care, but sadly ultimately lacking a real "raison d'etre".

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Re: Roma reviews

Postby ITALIANO » Sun Nov 25, 2018 5:38 pm

Precious Doll wrote:At the end of the day I'll take Fellini over Cuaron any day. Actually I really should not even mention them in the same sentence.


Yeah, it made me cringe. Gravitt's directon AND Fellini?!

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Re: Roma reviews

Postby Precious Doll » Sun Nov 25, 2018 4:02 am

The Original BJ wrote: (And the sound mix here is really impressive -- it will likely be lost on many Netflix home viewers the way the soundtrack in a theater gives such a great sense of where the cacophony of the film's sounds are all coming from.)


The sound mix is quite astonishing. There were a number of times during the film I thought that there were some noisy audience members towards the back of the cinema. At one point I thought someone had brought a baby into the cinema.

At the end of the day I'll take Fellini over Cuaron any day. Actually I really should not even mention them in the same sentence.
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Re: Roma reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Sun Oct 21, 2018 10:10 pm

A beautiful movie, one that almost feels like it has been airlifted from the era in which it is set and dropped into today's theaters (or, for many, today's tv screens). And it's beautiful in all of the ways a film can be, beginning with the visuals, which are both gorgeously lit and composed with exacting precision, while also teeming with the spontaneity of detailed wide-screen frames that overflow with life. But it's also beautiful emotionally, in its year-in-the-life portrait of a domestic worker and the family she serves, which begins with moments of observation of what appears to be a fairly mundane existence, and climaxes with a series of deeply powerful sequences suggesting the power of life to simply go on, with moments happy, tragic, and everything in between existing side by side forever. (The way the closing shot neatly reverses the opening one is a great visual reflection of this idea.)

The Fellini influence on the film is strong -- not that anyone could have any doubt Cuarón intended otherwise when he named his film Roma -- but Cuarón's portrait of the Mexico of his upbringing downplays some of the larger than life quality of Fellini's more extravagant sequences. (Though you'd have to imagine Fellini getting a kick out of the running joke involving the dog's feces littering the driveway). Cuarón's Roma has more in common with the neorealist side, finding fascination with crowds swarming across the various landscapes of Mexico City, and allowing its protagonists to wander through them like blips passing through history. And like many of Fellini's films, you can easily imagine this one being remembered for a series of memorable set pieces -- the earthquake, the fire, the martial arts class, the Corpus Christi massacre, the beach excursion.

Popular culture is also a pretty significant through-line in the movie, with various scenes taking place at movie theaters, in front of televisions, while soundtracks play; the blend of cultural touchstones from Mexico, the United States, and Europe create a portrait of a city that's rich with its own heritage but increasingly becoming internationalized.

The film also does a fascinating job navigating the very specific relationship its protagonist, Cleo, has to the family she nannies for -- she seems to exist somewhere between member of the family and strictly paid servant, and the way she moves through this world, sometimes leaning more toward one role than another, depending on the situation, provides a compellingly nuanced portrait of her class status vis a vis this bourgeois (but tellingly not mega-rich) family.

I'm sure others will have lots to say once they've had a chance to see the film -- it feels like the kind of movie you need multiple viewings to really absorb, but it also feels like a film that's best experienced rather than talked about, in the way its images and sounds just wash over you like the soapy water in the opening sequence. (And the sound mix here is really impressive -- it will likely be lost on many Netflix home viewers the way the soundtrack in a theater gives such a great sense of where the cacophony of the film's sounds are all coming from.)

I imagine the movie will do very well with the initial critics' prizes, but I wonder if it might encounter a little more resistance from some of the other precursors -- it doesn't have much of a driving narrative, and if a director other than Hollywood-embraced Cuarón were behind it, I'd wonder if it might be too art-house to get major mainstream awards attention at all. But the Academy has definitely shown it has an adventurous claque -- the voters who elevated The Tree of Life, Amour, and Phantom Thread -- and I imagine those voters will respond pretty enthusiastically to Roma as well.

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Re: Roma reviews

Postby Precious Doll » Fri Aug 31, 2018 2:54 am

The fact that it is a Netflix production may go against it.

Such a shame that most people will be denied the opportunity to see a film that will undoubtably look gorgeous on a big screen. But than again it could be argued that this is really a TV film depending how limited its cinema screenings around the globe are.
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Re: Roma reviews

Postby Reza » Thu Aug 30, 2018 10:54 pm

This sounds like a film that will get nods only for Foreign Film, the director and screenplay.

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Re: Roma reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Thu Aug 30, 2018 6:02 pm

To underline what I noted earlier: Gleiberman's Metacritic score for this is 70; even with that included, the film's overall score is 97. So he's at the far low end of reaction.


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