RogerBW's Blog

Roma 25 May 2023

2018 drama, dir. Alfonso Cuarón; Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira: IMDb / allmovie. A year in the life of a middle-class family in Mexico City in the 1970s, as mostly seen through the eyes of their maid.

Well, yes. It's no eight hour unsubtitled unedited tone poem, but this was a very hard watch for me, because Cuarón has made it – and I have to assume this is deliberate, the man's competent if not always to my taste – largely without plot or character.

They're not completely lacking. Dad, a doctor, spends a lot of time away from home, is revealed to be having an affair, and eventually moves out of the house. Cleo, the maid, discovers she's pregnant; her boyfriend vanishes, and when she tracks him down threatens to kill her; they meet again while he's killing students as part of a paramilitary group, but he doesn't kill her; she loses the baby. But we get very little impression of what these people are like – Cleo in particular, whom the camera follows most of the time, doesn't seem to have any friends or anyone else to whom she could express herself emotionally, and apart from one emotional scene when she admits that she didn't particularly want the baby in the first place we don't learn much about what she wants. She's a character with very little agency, and the film is not about her taking agency, or even about her realising that she doesn't have it; it's just about observing.

We're told externally that the film was largely inspired by Cuarón's childhood, to the extent of being largely shot in a house across the road from the one he grew up in. But this information is not in the film and a film has to stand on its own merits. (And it's Cleo who's the viewpoint character, rather than one of the children of the house.)

Yalitza Aparicio is great as Cleo, but she doesn't have a lot to do. The doctors and nurses in the miscarriage sequence are actual doctors and nurses moonlighting, so while I'm glad that unlike most such it looks realistic, I can't really give them credit for good acting.

There are lots of mundane conversations, long silences, close-ups of mundane objects, if you really reach for it symbolism of water as a cleaning force and fire as a destroying one. But that's about it.

I talk about this film further on Ribbon of Memes.

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Tags: film reviews

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