Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The critics are correct, Roma is a masterpiece

I had been kind of avoiding Roma, the much-acclaimed semi-autobiographical flic about director’s Alfonso Cuarón’s boyhood growing up in early 1970s Mexico City. Too much acclaim, and this film had snobbish film critic imprimatur written all over it (a 96 rating on both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic). And it has garnered a truckload of awards and nominations including two Golden Globes, four Critics’ Choice awards, and now 10 nominations including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress for the Feb. 24 Oscars…… But I broke down last night and watched it (on Netflix despite a limited late fall theatre release). At first my thought watching the film was that despite its realism (it’s also filmed in black and white), Roma was simply a nondescript narrative of life circa 1970-71. But the more I watched the more I was convinced of the film’s brilliance - like a shining orb becoming brighter and brighter - indeed conceding that this picture was entering masterpiece territory……The story is indeed rather pedestrian, about a middle class family growing up in Mexico City’s Colonia Roma neighborhood but particularly centered on one of their servants, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio, who had no acting experience previous to this). Roma basically is a series of meditative scenes from family life, whether dining at the breakfast table, going on vacation, furniture shopping, watching military parades or martial arts demonstrations. Mexico, to those who’ve never been there, is also shown to be remarkably similar to Canada and the United States, whether it be the then huge Fords and Chevys people drove or the same Western cultural values, from World War II films to debating whether Creedence or the Beatles was the better group or discussing the 1971 Super Bowl in which Baltimore beat Dallas. But the movie’s brilliance isn’t in the straightforward narrative but in the effortless acting (including from numerous children) and its exceeding realism – it’s transfixing the degree to which Cuarón is able to recreate the era. Everything has the look and feel of the period, from the way people dressed (platform shoes and miniskirts on the beach!) to detailed store merchandise. Usually, period films don’t capture this reality in such scope and in scene after scene after scene, large or small. Indeed, there are expansive backdrops of downtown streets where the cars, buses and trucks look like they’re digitized in from the era – they’re not – and a political rally where hundreds of students clash with police……The way to watch this film, despite any initial doubts you may have after it gets underway, is to let it continue to unfold, and get caught up in the picture's almost palpable verisimilitude.

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