February 25, 2019

Roma (2018)
Grade: 55/100

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Alfonso Cuarón Stars: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey

What it's about. A family drama set in Mexico during the 1970s. Sofia (Marina de Tavira) is an upper middle class wife with a nothing husband (Fernando Grediaga) and four adorable children preteenaged children, Toño (Diego Cortino Autrey), Paco (Carlos Peralta), Pepe (Marco Graf), and Sofi (Daniela Demesa). Sofia's sixty-ish mother (Verónica García) is around but doesn't say much.

Sofia also has two maids, young Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) and Adela (Nancy García García). They appear to have Native Mexican ancestry, while their employer's family apparently has Spanish ancestry. This movie is about Cleo. She dotes on the four kids and silently puts up with Sofia's mix of verbal abuse and conditional love.

Cleo has an early 20s stud, Fermín, who knocks her up, then vanishes. We are worried: will Cleo lose her position, which would put her in the streets of Mexico City? Fortunately not, and a sort-of happy ending is worked up.

How others will see it. Nominated for a whopping ten Academy Awards, Roma was all the rage. Alfonso Cuarón has more Oscar nominations than you can shake a stick at, but it might just be that his best film was the one nobody saw, A Little Princess from 1995.

Though the film has been relased only three months, it already has 84K user votes at imdb.com, and a high user rating of 7.9 out of 10. This does drop, slowly but steadily, from 8.4 under age 18 to 7.7 over age 45.

It is a surprise, then, that so many of the top voted user reviews are so negative. "Boring", "I tried", "Boring, Nothing film", "The King has no Clothes", etc.

How I felt about it. There was a time, prior to 1967, when most dramas were filmed in black and white. That's just how it was done. Today, when 99% of dramas are color, one must have a reason to film one in black and white. The Artist (2011) was set in the silent era of the 1920s and was about the film industry. It made sense it was black and white.

But Roma has no such reason. It was filmed in black and white simply because Cuarón believed it would receive more acclaim that way. And if the movie is stocked with scenes that fail to further the plot, there's no need to worry. They build character. Slowly. Very slowly.

Yalitza Aparicio, I am sorry you did not win the Best Actress Oscar for this performance. You deserved it more than, for example, Marlee Matlin in Children of a Lesser God, or Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter. Surely, if the Oscars had a category of Most Likable Performance, or Nicest House Servant, you would have carried home that valuable, albeit unsalable, trophy.

The kids are good actors too. Really. And Cuarón's screenplay is solid. Better than his Oscar-winning directing. The problem is all those empty scenes, of husbands smoking in cars, of strongmen pulling cars on the telly, of whatever occurred to the director to waste precious minutes of the viewers' lives.

It would be wrong to say that nothing happens. There is an earthquake, a robbery, a street riot, a stillborn birth. High drama indeed. Who would have thought humble Cleo was such a witness to history, just like Forrest Gump.

Men are jerks. This politically correct conclusion is proven once again by the husband who abandons his family, and by Fermín abandoning Aparicio. Women are heroes. This is proven once again by Aparicio, who risks her life to save her employers' stupid kids, instead of simply staring in front of her, which she does so often elsewhere during the movie.