Saturday, October 06, 2018

NYFF: Roma

We will never know the meaning of everything that's in the new film Roma, Alfonso Cuarón's loving black-and-white recreation of his childhood in the Roma section of Mexico City. As with any autobiographical movie, the writer-director shares scenes filtered through the lens of memory, and artificially recreated through the performance of actors and the objectivity of the camera, manned by the subjective intellectual directorial decisions that make a complete cinematic product. After exploring the adventure of a Mexican road trip (Y tu mamá también), a dystopian future (Children of Men), outer space (Gravity) and a world of wizards and humans (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), he's exploring the memory and magic of his childhood. Roma, in addition brings on board a wealth of cinematic references, some personal, and others culled from a lifetime of movie watching.

When you watch Roma you are also watching Cuarón's homage to the directors he loves and those that have influenced his career. Visually, it's impossible to watch Roma and not bring to mind the work of Federico Fellini and the other architects of the Neorealism movement. This is particularly evident in the choice of casting non-professional actors in key roles, such as Yalitza Aparicio, a woman from a village in Oaxaca, who had never acted before, and who plays Cleo, an indigenous servant/nanny to an upper middle class family.

But make no mistake about it: this is a 100% Mexican film, one which could not have been made elsewhere. Though touching upon Mexican themes of racial inequality and university students unrest, the core of the film remains the breakup of a family, and the way their nanny manages to keep them together, while confronting her own dire problems. This gives the film a universal appeal while at the same time remaining very close to Cuarón's memories of his beloved Libo, and indigenous woman whom he considered his second mother.

There are many epic moments in this film that stand out: a trip to the movies (to watch 1971's Marooned) where the disintegration of the family begins (the scene might remind you of a key scene in François Truffaut's The 400 Blows), a New Year's celebration featuring a shooting party which culminates in a forest fire, a student demonstration that ends tragically, and a visit to a seaside resort where a dangerous undertow and raging waves threatens the very lives of the main characters. Despite these superbly crafted showstoppers, it is the intimate moments of family life that catapult this film into the realm of greatness.

Roma is a Netflix film that you will be able to stream towards the end of the year, but this is the kind of movie that you need to watch on the big screen with an audience. Roma is Mexico's official entry into the 2018 Oscar race.  If I were you I'd race to a theater to watch it.

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