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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Roma: Perfect for a Quiet Saturday Afternoon

In this scene, the mother informs the children about the divorce, that she has a new job,
 and that their father is picking up his things at that moment from their home.

Roma tells the story of a family living in Mexico City in the 70s: wife, doctor-husband, four kids, grandmother, and two servants.  The film quietly follows the wife and one of the servants as their sexual partner/husband fail and desert them.  
Writer and director Alfonso Cuarón tells the story in nouns and verbs. He shows us what transpires. When Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) tracks down her lover and asks for his assistance with his baby, she simply asks. Emotions are implied, given the gravity of the situation. And when she sleeps with him for the first time, we sense her desire for the experience simply in her choice to “stay out” rather than go to the theater that night.

In this scene, Cleo has just rescued two of the children
from nearly drowning. 
Sometimes you know the gender of a director simply by watching the movie. Roma is this kind of a movie: it's clearly written and directed by a man. Cuarón's shows us scenes of the two jilted women consoling each other. And we're supposed to feel terrific sympathy. In a postcard shot towards the end, just after two of the children nearly drown, the mother, servant, and all the children clutch each other against the cruel world that's nearly destroyed them. (This scene is the cover shot for the movie.)

Things happen to these women: men mistreat them and they react. 

Had this story been written and directed by a woman, it's quite likely the mother and her servant would be enabled, knowing how they'd gotten to their dead-end situations and navigating a way forward. The scene where the wife grasps and pleads at her husband when he leaves her for the last time would have had a bit more nuance, I'm willing to bet.

Roma's shot in black and white, and the characters speak in Spanish and Mixtec. It started streaming on Netflix in December in the United States, and had limited theater distribution in November. It's actually lost money at the box office, earning only $3.5 million to the $15 million budget.  

Netflix paid a lot in advertising around Christmas to promote the movie, which explains for all of its Academy Award Nominations: ten of them to be exact. In this respect, Roma is very, very unusual: a movie that lost money at the box office yet received ten Academy Award nominations--winning for Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film, and Best Cinematography.  

It's a beautiful movie, every scene thoughtfully composed. And it merits the awards. 

This is the era for Mexican directors at the Oscars. Known as the Three Amigos, Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu have been seen frequently of late giving acceptance speeches for Best Picture and Best Director, among other awards.

Judging by the quality of this movie and its reception, this certainly won't be the last we'll be seeing of them, either.

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