Devin Carter, A&E Writer
When the Academy Awards inch closer and closer every year, I always try to watch the films that are nominated for Best Picture, just so I can go in feeling like I am supporting the right movie in its chance at Oscar glory. Some years, I go in passionately supporting a particular movie, and on others I go in with general neutrality. Admittedly, I have more fun if I can support a particular film against another favorite, but it seems like most years I do not have that one movie that I back.
Earlier this week, I opened my Netflix app and watched Roma, the film that is being hailed as director Alfonso Cuaron’s greatest achievement, and looks to be going into Sunday’s Oscars as the Best Picture frontrunner along with nine other nominations. I was hoping that I would finally be able to watch a film by the great Mexican director that I could say that I loved. I have always appreciated his directorial capabilities; I think anyone with eyes who watches either Children of Men or Gravity can see that this man is a great director. And yet I have never been able to get involved in his films in the same way I have in films by other great directors. In other words, he is a director whose films I have respected more than loved. And yet Roma is being hailed as such a personal story, and an example of a director at the height of his craft. Hopefully, I thought, this would be the Cuaron epiphany I needed.
And with those thoughts I watched Roma, and was instantly mesmerized by Cuaron’s directing and the fascinating cinematography. And, for me, it is the strongest thing about this movie. Cuaron allows for the camera to be largely stationary, and to occasionally glide through the locations, which helps us to take in the mood and atmosphere in the setting. This style, combined with the beautiful black-and-white film that the movie utilizes, creates a sort of dreamlike atmosphere, and I found myself mesmerized at the beautiful imagery that Cuaron manages to create. I would not be surprised to see him win Oscars for both directing as well as cinematography, and if so then it will have been well deserved. I’m not even sure if such a double feat has been accomplished before.
The film itself tells the story of Cleo, a young maid whose life is thrown into chaos alongside the lives of her employers and, seemingly, all of Mexico, where the film takes place. The entire film is filled with moments of nerve-wrecking uncertainty for our characters, especially Cleo, and this is played out in several memorable ways: there is a scene that involves parking a car that had me on the edge of my seat and also laughing out loud, a party that is randomly interrupted by a fire, and, probably the movie’s most bizarre scene, in which a large group of men practice martial arts in an open environment. It is this last scene I mentioned that perhaps best sums up the sort of movie Roma is. It is ridiculous, and had me laughing. And yet the events leading up to it are tense, and the buildup caused me to have an uneasy feeling, since I know that more sorrow for Cleo is likely to come once the men’s training ends.
It is not always a downer, however. There are joyous moments, especially when Cleo is interacting with the four children she cares for, or when she and another maid, Adela, have witty exchanges. Some movies simply have sad stories to tell, and they are perfectly fine in doing so. Roma does not take that route, but instead shows life with all of its ups and downs.
But the chaos is still what sticks out the most. Perhaps the two most memorable scenes in the movie show us death; one stemming from violent, political circumstances, and the other simply a natural occurrence. We do not get to decide what sort of things life throws our way, but it is instead up to us to make the most of it. This lesson, I think, is what is at the heart or Roma.
One of the film’s final scenes is when all of the building emotions come to a head, and a character makes a confession that makes Roma feel reminiscent of Yasujiro Ozu’s masterpiece, Tokyo Story, and this helped add yet another layer of depth to this film. A sign of a great film is when you can have a completely different outlook based on one scene, and this proved to me that Roma is, indeed, a great film. It is one thing to throw in a cheap twist, and another entirely to revels hidden secrets about a movie’s characters that you may or may not have been able to see before. Bad films are movies about stereotypes. Great films are movies about human beings, with all of their complexities.
Overall, I would not be surprised if Roma wins Best Picture. It is a very good movie, and may be deserving of the title. With that being said, I do not think it is one of the best films I have ever seen. Its major themes are prevalent early on, and it slows just a bit in places. And while it does an excellent job in presenting the struggles of the characters, it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. But the filmmaking was top-notch, the performances were great, and I think it is set up to have a big night at the Oscars. This still was not exactly my “Cuaron epiphany,” but it did help to further cement him in my mind as one of the greatest filmmakers working today. If you have a Netflix account, and do not mind reading subtitles, then I highly recommend giving Roma a shot.