Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Roma (2018) - Movie Review

Before getting into this film, I want to show you all something:

That video was made in collaboration with Autism Speaks, an organisation that, for me and many other autistics, has become emblematic of just how much work needs to be done when it comes to autism awareness. It shows a level of sickening propaganda that it has also become an emblem of how we see the world perceiving us. It’s frankly hard to sit through without feeling like a pariah on one’s own planet. And it was directed by one Alfonso Cuarón, director of Y Tu Mamá También, Children Of God, Gravity and a bunch of other work more worth having one’s name attached to than this shit.

I bring all this up because, as I get into his latest effort, know that I am struggling with trying to separate his place as a genuine cinematic marvel with his culpability in something that haunts the autism movement to this day, especially since that very video is one of the reasons why I’m an advocate for the cause in the first place: I don’t want this shit hanging around and making things harder for me and others.

Okay, rant over: Let’s actually get into the film itself.

Cuaron, at his best, is a master of visual storytelling. As adept with the cinematic medium as he is allergic to all things exposition, he prefers to let lingering camera takes and open space do most of the talking. And in this story, about a domestic house-keeper for a reasonably well-off family in Mexico, that results in an unwaveringly personal touch. It feels like we’re taking a long, hard look at real life unfolding before the camera, as naturalistic as it is occasionally frightening.

For all of the largely-quiet moments of house-keeper Cleo going about her work and engaging with her employers are laced with a veritable feeling of tension. That is a result of the setting, early 1970’s Mexico, when authoritarian fuckstick Luis Echeverría was just beginning to make his mark as a ‘populist’ president of the country. During the more intense moments, it carries a certain vibe reminiscent of Jafar Panahi’s This Is Not A Film in how it juxtaposes the humdrum of domestic life with the raging fire of political upheaval going on outside.

While still utilising Cuaron’s knack for showing rather than telling, we are given a hefty amount of context for what we’re seeing and the country it’s taking place in, from the occurrence of earthquakes to mentions of problems with huffing (something that would make U.S. headlines that same decade) to the fact that the main character is one of the Mixtec, the indigenous people of the area, with her language and the more regional Spanish distinguished within the subtitles.

What all this adds up to is Cuaron using the inalienable power of cinema to detail his reality, as the story itself is a semi-autobiographical take on his own upbringing south of the border. The intentional pointing-out of the different dialects results in a display of how easily cinema crosses the language barrier, using it as a communicator between cultures. We see this in the film proper with scenes where characters are at the cinemas watching the Gregory Peck film Marooned and the French war comedy La Grande Vadrouille, and that builds on the film’s overall attempt to show a story beyond what are considered Western borders. A story about a housekeeper, her trials and tribulations in life and love, and how much true strength lies within her.

It’s genuinely astounding stuff, making for some of the most striking imagery I’ve seen on screen all year, not to mention achingly personal and vital in its emotional bandwidth. I won’t lie, part of me is still going to take time getting past what else Cuaron has given the world, but seeing something this unmistakably empathetic and human makes that idea seem like a possibility.

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