Roma15¦ Blu-ray, DVD
After all the technical know-how that must have gone into the CGI heavy Gravity - not that his 2013 film wasn’t richly rewarded mind, lifting 7 Oscars for his troubles - Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón decided to keep his feet very much on terra firma for his recent follow-up Roma.
Set at the start of the seventies, it follows the life of a housemaid to a family living in a neighbourhood of Mexico City, known as Roma.
Working as the home help for a middle class family is Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio). With four children and a dog that has a penchant for endlessly pooing, there’s always plenty for her to do.
To have a bit of a social life of her own, she starts to see the handsome Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero). It’s good for her to get out of the house as tension is building between her bosses Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and her hubby Antonio (Fernando Grediaga); they’ve told their children that as a doctor, their father has had to go on a long trip to Canada for work, but that’s far from the truth.
And with tensions also rising on the street, things are most certainly heating up in Roma.
It’s been just over a year now since Cuarón’s film won three Oscars. So now seems the perfect time to reflect and reconsider it being hailed by many as a modern classic.
Watching it now gives the impression somewhat of the Emperor’s new clothes. There are elements to it that make you think its genius, like his use of black and white stock and cinematography, and yet the film itself is a bit of a drag.
Yes, you heard that right, Roma is tedium personified.
For a start, its central protagonist is so very dull. She may be well-meaning and sweet, but she is completely devoid of personality. Some might say that it’s a realistic performance, but that’s simply a euphemism for some tepid acting. To that end, it’s difficult to feel anything at all for her, as there’s something mind-numbingly neutral about her performance.
The family she works for aren’t much better. The children come across as if this is their first job out of acting school, delivering a version of a somewhat annoying family. The only one with real bounce and energy is the family pet dog, who sadly doesn’t get enough screen time of his own.
No doubt Cuarón used black and white to take your mind off the very little taking place on screen. Never has a director used so many slow, panning shots in one film. Nothing that much is happening, so the camera painstakingly follows it to the left. And then slowly to the right. And repeat. Perhaps it’s in the hope of catching a rare glimpse of something remotely interesting. Admittedly some of the vistas are attractive, and serve as a welcome break as something actually worth watching, before returning to the relative humdrum of family life.
It reaches a point where your bones may well be physically aching for something with some kind of emotional impact to happen, and when it does arrive, it’s so devoid of passion, it only adds to the film’s overall disappointment.
Roma is a self-indulgent project that is limp and lifeless. It wants to create the same kind of energy as classic cinema, with its obvious nods to the Italian neo-realist movement. It even has the gall to steal the title from Frederico Fellini’s 1972 film. But that movement had one crucial element that this effort sorely misses – heart.