Poffy The Cucumber

Interesting Boredom.

ROMA will bore you to death. Unless you pretend to like it because film critics say you should.

ROMA is excellent filmmaking, controlled and economical, with creative direction, powerful performances and a tragic story. And it won the 2019 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Yet it’s like watching Mexican paint dry.

The story is quite simple: In the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City, a Mexican maid gets pregnant, has a miscarriage, and discovers her boss is having an affair. (Wait—even in Mexico, they have Mexican maids? I thought maybe karma would kick in and make the maids in Mexico lily-white Protestant Wisconsin housewives.) We follow Cleo (adamantly expressionless Yalitza Aparicio, looking very Aztec) as she tidies the house, washes clothes, goes to the movies, gets laid, tends to four boisterous children, as slow camera pans follow the action in mostly establishing shots rather than cutaways or inserts, and it’s in black and white, and has subtitles, with some full frontal male nudity, meaning this is sophisticated art and anyone who thinks it’s boring is obviously not as smart as we are.

Acclaimed, award-winning director Alfonso Cuarón seems intent on making a mundane life of servitude even more mundane. And I don’t understand why. Controlled filmmaking is one thing. Boring is another. Cuarón is the writer-director of GRAVITY (2013) and CHILDREN OF MEN (2006) – proof that he understands how to make movies compelling even whilst being “controlled” (by controlled, I mean not stooping to bombast for the sake of excitement, but relying on gripping story – Clint Eastwood is another fine exponent of controlled-yet-compelling filmmaking). Yet ROMA seems a passion project for Cuarón, that he has pulled the wool over the world’s eyes into believing is compelling, just for the fact that he has filmed it in such a studious manner.

The opening frames remind me of another foreign language film – we see water splashing across tiles in closeup; in the reflection of the water, a jet airliner far overheard – this creativity reminded me of the artistic opening of BANGKOK DANGEROUS (the original 1999 Thai version, not the 2008 Nic Cage glam remake), where a murdered man’s blood flows across tiles, reflecting the overhead lights. That’s where the comparison stops, though, as BANGKOK’s art swept kinetically into the tragic story, while ROMA’s art clutches desperately for our attention after the opening. We can sense all the ambitious filmmaking techniques Cuarón is throwing at us (one camera starting a pan left, cutting to a camera panning right in an upstairs room; 360-degree camera pans (which seem more like self-indulgence than art); a whole beach sequence shot into the sun (the low sun in the background flaring directly into camera); distinct mise-en-scène creating isolation and alienation), yet for all its striking cinematography and gritty earthiness, ROMA fails to be engaging. I’m not saying the movie needs any Pretty Orange Explosions, although one of them might have helped keep me awake…

Cleo’s boyfriend Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) gets her pregnant, then disowns her. Cleo seeks out Fermin by visiting his friend Ramon (José Manuel Guerrero Mendoza) who is at “band practice” (a hilarious interlude where Ramon is seen out in a blasted shanty dwelling with no roof, wailing into a mic moronically, while a guitarist strums arbitrarily, and a drummer in another “room” beats listlessly). When Cleo confronts Fermin, he calls her a “fucking servant” and runs off with his ambiguously hetero karate buddies.

Father of the house announces he is going out of town on another of his many business trips, which his wife Sofia (Marina de Tavira, a super MILF), objects to. There’s something in the way she strangles her crying that tells us she knows this “business trip” is anything but. Later, while in town, Cleo and kids see Father – frolicking with a loose wench.

Apparently, ROMA is a re-capturing of events from Cuarón’s own childhood, so there is no Hollywood three-act formula, but rather slice-of-life meandering… a cocktail gathering, a shooting outing with white people, a fire in the woods where a man costumed like a golem sings a full song in the foreground while people fight the fire in the background, a movie (MAROONED, featuring Gene Hackman), a party (featuring the record Jesus Christ Superstar!), a visit to a beach, a street revolution (where Fermin, we discover, has joined this rebel gang and bursts in holding a gun to Cleo – coincidence much?! – causing her water to break…

In the movie’s most gripping, harrowing sequence, Cleo’s baby is born dead, after she is rushed to a hospital. The doctors put the dead baby in her arms and tell Cleo: “Say goodbye to her.” Cuarón’s objective throughout the film was to see the world through the eyes of Cleo – and suddenly we do! Awake at last! The movie now has us by the throat, no Pretty Orange Explosions required.

Soon followed by another harrowing scene, when Mother Sofia takes the kids on a beach vacation, so that Father can take his things from the house. She tells the kids of their separation. One of the boys weeps. The next day, Sofia entrusts Cleo with the kids, who want to swim out into the rough surf, forbidden by their mother, who orders them to stay near the shore. In another great movie-making sequence, we do not see the two kids (who are obviously being caught in an undertow), but we see Cleo, who cannot swim, calling to them from the shore; then the camera travels alongside her, as she makes the long traumatic trek across the sand and into the raging surf to pull these two idiots from their drowning deaths.

In the heady moment of survival following the rescue, the family creates its deepest bond, and Cleo becomes more than just the help; she also entrusting them with her repressed anxieties about her stillborn baby.

It’s quite emotional, but it takes…



…to arrive at these gemstone moments.

When the family arrive back home, father’s belongings are gone, and there is no more contemplation of their new life. A new beginning… but was the one boy’s tears the night before enough to encapsulate all their adjustment to life without papa? It’s just a fun-filled romp as they check out their new rooms. And Cleo takes out the washing.

And life goes on. In boredom…


ROMA 2018 (Nov 2018) R
Director, Writer: Alfonso Cuaron.
Writers: Will Canon, Doug Simon, Max La Bella.
Starring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Nancy Garcia Garcia, Veronica Garcia, Andy Cortes, Fernando Grediaga, Jorge Antonio Guerrero, Jose Manuel Guerrero Mendoza.
RATINGS-06 imdb
Word Count: 1,080      No. 1,443
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