Can Roma break through? 

Sarah Posted by Sarah at September 19, 2018 21:20:55 September 19, 2018 21:20:55

(Lainey: the Oscar race is shaping up. Yesterday Variety listed ten possible contenders now that the Telluride, Venice, and Toronto film festivals have happened. Roma is on everyone’s list for the best films of the year. It will begin streaming on Netflix in December and will also have a limited theatrical release. 

Netflix though. The Oscar Academy has been resistant to Netflix, unlike the Emmys. I just read an article in the Washington Post that quoted a Hollywood agent’s remark about Roma’s chances for Oscar. It was a pretty big statement: 

“This is a big moment — for Netflix but also for the film business. If ‘Roma’ can’t win, Netflix can never win.”

With that in mind, here is Sarah’s review of Roma from TIFF.) 

Alfonso Cuarón’s sprawling Roma is (approximately) a year in the life of a domestic worker in 1970s Mexico City. Based on his own childhood and honoring the indigenous maids who raised him, Roma is both sprawling epic and intimate family portrait. It’s the most personal film Cuarón has made, filled with the kind of details that only come from a storyteller working at his most candid and earnest, and it also has one of the most grief-stricken and empathetic scenes in recent memory. It’s a film that invites second viewing, filled to the brim with particulars that deserve observation, and also to revel in the way the story synchs up in large and small ways.

Set in the eponymous neighborhood of Roma, the film centers on Cleo (newcomer Yalitza Aparicio, in an astounding debut), a domestic worker for a doctor’s family in Mexico City. She works alongside Adela (Nancy García García), and has a mostly friendly relationship with the lady of the house, Sofía (Marina de Tavira). Cleo acts as a maid and nanny, and she clearly loves Sofía’s children as if they were her own. The early part of the film is dedicated to Cleo’s routine as she cleans, nannies, and squeezes in a life of her own during her off hours, dating Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), whom she met through Adela. Cleo’s world is small, revolving around Sofía’s home and family, and everyone connected within that established circle.

However, the larger outside world cannot be kept at bay. Student protests in the city turn violent, earthquakes and wild fires interrupt activities, and life changes come for Cleo and Sofía as the former becomes pregnant and the latter navigates a divorce. Honestly, I wasn’t into Roma until Cleo’s and Sofía’s stories started to merge, illuminating the genuinely loving yet complicated relationship between the two women. Abandoned by Fermín, Cleo relies on Sofía for support in her pregnancy and likewise Sofía needs Cleo more than ever when she, too, is abandoned. True equality is impossible between them, but once disappointed by the men in their lives, it is fulfilling to see the women pull together.

And then there is that terrible, grievous scene. Cuarón, acting as his own cinematographer (he also co-edited the film with Adam Gough), shoots with such empathy, some scenes are almost unbearable to watch. Yet his camera never wavers from Cleo’s suffering, and so it is impossible for the audience to do so. We are just in the moment with Cleo, living her pain with her, and it is an incredible humanist moment. Cuarón excels at such drama, but this singular scene—you’ll definitely know it when you get there—is the most impactful realization he’s done yet. 

Roma is small life drama writ large. It’s generally about the ways women work together when men prove unreliable, and specifically about the sacrifices and half-lives of the women who raise other people’s children. There is no fairy tale ending for Cleo or Sofía, only the sense that together they will manage to move forward. That is another of Roma’s observations - that life does not slow or stop for anything and the only way to survive is to keep moving forward; that from the depths of grief can come bravery and the will to continue. This is what Cleo and Sofía show the children: How to keep living after great disappointment. It’s a lesson that Cuarón honors with his beautiful film.


 

Photos:
Rich Fury/ Tara Ziemba/ Rodin Eckenroth/ Getty Images

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