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"Roma": A Slow-Paced but Genius Work of Art

A Review by Danny King

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Photo courtesy of Netflix

“Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical masterpiece, is earning a surplus of national attention this year for its impeccable formal structure and cultural representation. Despite its troubled production, with a humble budget of $15 million, a cast of mostly untested and unknown actors, and a release as a Netflix Original Movie, Cuarón’s latest work of art has earned a Best Picture Oscar nomination. Throughout the course of Oscar history, only nine other foreign films have earned such an honor and none of those have ever actually won the award. Will the pattern repeat itself this year? No one can deny that this film is beautiful in every sense of the word. Not only that, but it’s profound. It’s moving. It’s visually perfect. And still, it might not be enough.

Winning an Oscar isn’t an important aspect of filmmaking, proven pretty plainly over the last few scandalous award seasons. The true gift of “Roma” comes not from its award appeal, but from its cultural relevance and representation that comes first and foremost in every moment of Cuarón’s masterpiece. “Roma” tells the story of Cleodegaria Guitiérrez, or Cleo for short, and her life spent in Mexico City as a household maid to a 1970s middle-class family—Alfonso Cuarón’s family. But more importantly, through Cuarón’s film about the women who raised him and through his subtle filmmaking skills, he manages to tell a much grander story of an entire community on a much wider scale. In the background of Cleo’s narrative, viewers are made witnesses to the horrors that plagued the people of Mexico City. Even in the most horrible of moments, Cuarón somehow still succeeds in gluing viewers’ eyes to the screen through his mise-en-scene. His unique style and resilient consistency is the reason this film deserves Oscar buzz; however, not even visual bliss can overshadow this movie’s glaring pacing problems.

No matter how pretty the picture, it doesn’t disguise the fact that “Roma” is not often an interesting movie. Because of the astonishing cinematography and handful of especially intense moments, critics and audiences alike can be forgiven for forgetting how uneventful the majority of this movie is. If you’re looking for a fun, exciting, or even enjoyable movie to watch, “Roma” is not what you’re looking for. It takes about forty minutes for the plot to really begin, and after it does, it frequently is sidelined for five minute long shots of Cleo walking around the apartment. This pacing sets the tone and gives additional familiarity to the setting, but it also makes “Roma” less appealing to general audiences. Had it been tightened up, it may have had a greater impact with a wider following, giving itself the attention it deserves, but there’s no telling what the movie would’ve lost in the process.

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Photo courtesy of Netflix

In the near future, film students will no doubt watch clips from this movie in course screenings. Every shot is framed expertly, giving even the most benign of situations—such as two characters foot-racing down a crowded street—a sense of Spielberg-esque wonder. Every camera movement is so precise, it feels nearly robotic, and yet provides the movie with a strong sense of humanity, culture, and community. Cuarón has completely outdone himself, proving his merit as a cinematographer and even rivaling other visual geniuses such as Roger Deakins (“Blade Runner 2049”), Emmanuel Lebuzki (“The Revenant”) or Christopher Nolan (“Inception”). In the end, “Roma” tells a beautiful story in an even more beautiful way and is truly a gift to Hollywood. It won’t likely win Best Picture this year, but it doesn’t need it. Even without it, “Roma” has already earned its place in the history books.