Feature Film Friday: ROMA
ROMA is a film about Cleo, a housekeeper and nanny for four children in 1970's Mexico City. The entire film is in black and white and the primary language is Spanish with English subtitles. The film has won multiple awards, including the Golden Globe and Academy Award to Alfonso Cuaron for Best Director. This review will have spoilers, you've been warned! If you haven't watched it you can do so on Netflix.
It has taken me a few days to form my own opinion about this film. I went into it with no knowledge of the plot and watched it by myself in two parts. My first impression: I was waiting for something to happen for the majority of the film. The pace is slow moving and the shots are long. I realize now that that is not the fault of Alfonso but rather my own bad habit and conditioning by the past two decades of cinema. A great majority of us are conditioned for instant gratification, and this film certainly does not provide that. That's why I was surprised by the attention it has gotten. Not because it doesn't deserve it, but because it's not the type of film I would expect the Academy to honor.
The film is beautifully made. I'm a fan of the long shots and moments of striking realism (i.e. Cleo on the hospital bed while doctors try to resuscitate her baby right next to her). The lack of music and camera movement in these moments strikes painfully true. The effect the long shots had on me and the typical viewer is that we feel as though we are part of the background. We are respectful intruders in this dysfunctional and lively household. The technique used by Alfonso is becoming more and more popular in modern drama and horror productions: Actors move in and out of frame, in and out of rooms while we are left in the dark, waiting for them to return (this is also used in the Netflix TV show "The Haunting of Hill House").
Cleo is the purest character I've seen on film in as long as I can remember. She is kind and gentle, and even when she is in her most painful moments or when she is confronted by true danger she remains wholly herself. That's not to say that she is unchanged by the events throughout the film, in fact it is quite the opposite. Towards the end, when she plunges into the ocean to save two beloved children who she has take care of for (probably) their entire lives, she is confronted with a primal fear that unlocks the sadness and guilt she had been bottling up since the loss of her baby. She feels responsible for the death of her baby simply by not wanting it. Even in her body language before they go to the beach you can see that she feels heavy with this guilt (among other things).
The film also deals with classism and, more importantly, family. Cleo's employers seem to accept her as part of their family, but there are moments when she is reminded of her station. She doesn't seem to be too phased by this, she accepts pretty much everything with grace where as other characters may have bitten back at this.
The film is also not without some comedic moments. When Cleo watches Fermin at his martial arts practice, they all struggle to do something that was built up for several minutes as being nearly impossible. All of the men fail while Cleo is in the background doing it perfectly. She has an inner peace that can't be disturbed by Fermin's cruelty, whereas he is clearly spiraling.
One of my absolute favorite shots in the movie is when Cleo visits her mother and, while everyone is partying, she gazes out into the trees. Slowly, we see sparks lift above the treeline. You know it's a fire, but you don't stress about it until you hear someone else yell "Fire! Fire!".
I could go on and on about this movie. There's so much to dissect and look into. Alfonso did an amazing job and created a world that I'm still shocked isn't real. Not to mention the production design and all of the extras....
All in all it was a very well made film. I'm looking forward to going back and rewatching some parts for things that I may have missed. What did you think?