- It’s almost daunting to know where to begin with Cuaron’s latest- a masterpiece. Here he serves as his own DP (debunking any possible theory that it’s Emmanuel Lubezki (Chivo) who is the actual genius at work), shooting is gorgeously crisp digital 65mm black and white with large (often filled with incredible set-pieces) tableaus mise-en-scene
- Cuaron takes advantage of the frame like few have in the art form’s history—there’s the Christmas party tableau, the shooting range sequence, the wildfire, the Corpus Christi demonstration/riot/massacre, the military training sequence, the cannonball, the beach climax—the beach climax is the greatest shot of the year, if not the decade, and there are a dozen right behind it
- He largely utilizes a long distance from his subjects (choice close-ups include Cleo’s smile, the scene where she is shy/ashamed/private talking to her doctor), long takes to let us soak in these characters, this life, this city, this country, this family, and pans to take in the entire canvas—he pivots and moves slowly utilizing that deep focus with busy backgrounds
- There are elements that are neo-realism showing the everyday (the routine of laundry here) in deep focus, not making a statement—cleaning or cooking in De Sica’s Umberto D
- There are also elements that are clearly epic filmmaking inspired by Lean or even Gone with the Wind– the large canvas, many extras like the injured soldiers Battle of Atlanta famous crane shot-
- this is the intimate and the epic- the personal and the political or contextual at work here that is brilliantly set up here by Cuaron in the opening credits with Cleo cleaning the garage and the reflection of the world, eventually, gorgeously, a plane— in this way it is married to Y Tu Mama Tambien– we have the story of Cleo and the family, but the world goes on around them (much like the formally brilliant voice-over in Y Tu Mama Tambien after they mute the action of Diego Luna and Bernal’s small life)
- No music score- lets you soak in the sound design- it’s the right choice
- Airplanes galore in the mise-en-scene
- The pure photography- this is detail in the mise-en-scene—the coke bottles, the gate at their home (which is stunningly beautiful to photograph in b/w), this is a lived in and detailed world – this is worth of Ozu and the Tati comparisons—two of the all-timers in mise-en-scene
- The water/cleansing metaphor is very real—opens with Cleo washing the ground, we have the water saving them from the fire, her actual water breaking with her pregnancy- the father who abandons them hates the messiness of life (aka the dog shit) and Cleo is there to clean it up which is no accident. The beach/water scene of course to end—and almost all of Cuaron’s films (at least in the 21st century) end/climax at the beach/water. The entire road trip in Y Tu Mama Tambien is to the fictional (there’s a lot there) “heaven’s mouth” beach, children of men ends on the water/boat/ship (and another pregnant saint as redeemer), Gravity Bullock ends up in the water on earth and learns to walk
- Multiple references to “miracles”
- Adore the sequence of Cleo turning out the lights and the camerawork pivoting- reminded me of Wes Anderson’s work at the opening in Moonrise Kingdom
- The wildfires, earthquakes and massacres also serve as larger canvas representations for the more intimate tremors and psychology affecting this film, especially these two women—father/husband abandonment
- The film has lots to say about class, gender- endless readings of the film that will reward multiple revisits and study
viewing 2.0 Dec 2018
- we have airplanes overhead, including the opening credits a number of times- I’ll count next time at home but it feels like 7-8. The brilliant motif (true to Cuaron as an auteur and formally consistent in this work) of the macro vs micro
- I caught most of the beauty of the film the first time around but the shot of Profesor Zovek with his blindfold on and airplane going over head I missed the first time. It’s a stunning shot
- there are religious motifs a plenty- the film ends with Cleo ascending the stairs— that act also ground the film in neo-realism (which may seem like a contradiction but it isn’t)– she’s going about her work- and it bookends how the film starts
- the youngest kid Pepe talks about reincarnation all the time- it’s played off as if he’s a young child learning grammar- they talk about to “resurrect” and she lays down next to him– this is also another magic hour shot
- more gorgeous shots through windows than I first remembered as we survey the house and daily life
- the plains shot, the restaurant with the busy mise-en-scene- the fact that there is no room for Cleo on the bench as the kids sadly eat ice cream (another gorgeous still frame composition)
- the establishing shot outside of the hospital is a stunner
- the magic hour used a few times- especially at the pinnacle shot at the beach– the sound of the waves are set up in the credits with the sound of the water
- there’s the Children of Men moment/shot of them escaping bullets during the corpus christi massacre- pregnancy
- during the first shot on the roof of Cleo– after the scene Cuaron moves the camera up to show 3-4 other maids doing the same thing- a powerful moment
- a giant masterpiece
Between Roma and Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood, which of the 2 in your opinion features the best production design?
@Cinephile— tough one-haha. I try not to think about it like this. Both great achievements. Roma’s easily the more beautiful of the two but there’s a lot more that goes into that beauty than just the production design.
@Drake— Really tough indeed. I think that I’d give the slight edge to Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood. But yes, if we talk about the “complete” package and not just production design, Roma is significantly the more visually beautiful film. I think if we take into account pure beauty in cinema, Roma rivals or comes close to every film in the art form’s history. On the other side, Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood is another beast that is up there with the most powerful showcases of cinematic aesthetic we’ve seen on the 2010s. Roma is a top 3 film of the decade but if you ask me right now Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood is worthy of a slot in the top 10.
I know you did not ask my haha, but since i saw her today i wanted to comment, both are titanic efforts recreating the 60s and 70s, but since it is plagued by Yellow everywhere and in the other they did not have to worry so much about the colors, would give the advantage Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
I’m really blown away by how invisible is the cgi in this film, and there’s a lot. How about you ? Did you catch it or you didn’t notice it at all ?
@Cinephile– agreed- very impressive. I didn’t/don’t think about it. And I think that’s the point
@Drake- Could this be a career best for Cuaron?
@Finn– could be. I’m not ready to say it yet with Children of Men out there but I’m pretty confident it is between those two.
Do you think Roma should have ended with the beach shot? I think the final sequence of returning to the forever-changed household is very good, but I wonder if Cuaron might have been better off closing with the triumphant climax of the family embracing on the beach. The way it finishes currently certainly does not detract from the film – I consider it among the top two of the decade, as do you – but I’m debating about this question myself and I’m not sure there’s a definitively correct solution.
The beach segment is an absolutely brilliant display of cinema and is one singular sequence I would mention when speaking about the genius of Alfonso Cuaron. But he was right not to end it right there. Ending the film on the beach sequence would imply that there is some kind of convergence between the poor housekeepers and their wealthy employers after the end of all the hardship they experienced, but that would be a lie and utterly contrary to the experiences of Alfonso Cuaron during his own childhood. Roma is a film where there is no conclusion, or more accurately there is no resolution; the film’s conflict continues after the ending and nothing really changes despite all the chaos that has occurred. As it happens in the film, there is a moment in which Cleo and Sofia are truly able to come together, but this is merely a moment; it does not last and they return to their respective spheres afterward, as the fundamental aspects of human nature are shaken by the film, but never shifted; the characters act just the same at the end as they did at the beginning. This reflects reality: when the Roman Republic became the Roman Empire, there was still a Senate, there were no great border changes, nothing about the order of society changed, and the same families kept on running the nation, a Caesar before and a Caesar afterward; after the American Civil War, the states were readmitted with less difficulty than one would imagine, many former Confederate officials became part of the Union government or successful businessmen, and the slaves were freed for a short time before again falling under the sharecropper system and being subordinated for nearly another century after the war ended; after the Great War, there were some border changes, but not massive ones, Germany went from being an empire to being a republic, and Russia became the Soviet Union. But nothing actually changed: Germany went back to war 20 years later, the Soviet Union was as repressive as the Russian Empire was, and the Western Allies learned nothing about promoting peace from the experience of the arms race with the German Empire before it, appeasing Hitler as much as they had the Kaiser and his ministers. But below the nation are the people who live in it, and their experience was no different. The Lost Generation (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, among others) suffered through the experience of the trenches over 4 years, just as Sofia, Cleo, and the children suffered through everything they went through over the course of the movie. But in the end, nothing really changed. There was no world revolution at the end of World War I and the rebels failed to overthrow the Mexican government in Roma, and Cleo will thus stay on the bottom and Sofia and her children will remain as wealthy as they always have. But they will never forget the experience itself; as I said earlier, the Lost Generation faced the war and Sofia’s children will face the lack of a father in their lives, and an inactive mother. Cleo’s position in the world didn’t change at all after the movie was over, she went right back to work. And Sofia herself will face the lack of a husband, but it’s not like she lives in a fundamentally different society. And that is their problem, that they cannot understand how after so much conflict, so much violence, so much hardship, that in the end, it all changed absolutely nothing. There was another World War, and even though the children will probably never again see their father, they still live in a better home than almost anyone else in Mexico. And if there was some resolution, where all of this carnage changed the world in some way, it would be the opposite of Cuaron himself experienced. In 2000, the Priista dictatorship (the PRI was the ruling party of Mexico; the Priistas were its supporters) fell and a new group of politicians took power (Note: this is a minor plot point explored in Y Tu Mama Tambien; Tenoch’s (Diego Luna) father is a PRI official in the government and the film explores the uncertainty of what will happen now that the PRI, which ruled for nearly a century, is gone), yet Mexico is largely the same country as before; hell, the PRI even got the presidency back in 2012 before losing it again in 2018. Cuaron ending the film as he did, portraying the lack of any real change in the world (the airplane passes by at the beginning and end of the film, showing Cleo’s life is just the same and as far from heaven–in the sky where the plane flies–as it was before) instead of placing it at the beach shot where Cleo, Sofia and the kids are all together for one moment, which would leave us with the thought of their unity rather than that of their separation as in how it actually ended, is the correct choice. I think this is a great example of how film is more than just images, it must be imagines that are joined together to create an effect, as ending it one way would leave us with one thought, but instead he makes the film a little longer which leaves us with something else completely.
I apologize if this post got too political in its content. I would like to leave a disclaimer that I, myself, do not identify as a socialist or as anyone who has particularly strong political beliefs, and everything that I described was done so in the context of the film alone regardless of any real-life implications and comparisons. I’m merely conveying the message that I received from the film and everything that Cuaron was attempting to portray in it, and how changing the ending from the one we got to the beach segment would completely turn that message around, and how this would be contrary to our understanding of the world.
Is this too long? Probably, but I digress. It’s time to stop writing about this anyway.
One last note: Roma would still easily be a giant MP if it had ended at the beach. I’m just saying there’s a reason Cuaron kept going on after that. I think the film is too obviously a social statement to end the way you describe.
Wow! You’ve convinced me. Thank you for the thorough and impeccable explanation.
1st Viewing for me:
– Incredibly patient, the pacing allows you to be immersed into the world of the film, love the
camera movement in the opening scene of Cleo going about her work
– I really cant think of any discernable flaws in the story, filming, directing, acting, etc.
– Love the use of natural sounds and decision to forgo a score or soundtrack as it would have
been distracting to the story
– It really looks different from any other black and white film, love the wide angle shots which
give the film the feeling of an epic
– The beach scene was spectacular, the use of sun was Malickesque
– Shockingly I have not seen any other films from this director aside from Gravity (2013)
What do you think of the performances here particularly Marina De Tavira considering she’s a professional actor.
@M*A*S*H- Very strong performance from Marina De Tavira
@Drake- Yeah!! I always feel iffy about Yalitza yk.
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