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kenmorefield

Roma (2018)

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Netflix has been pushing this for awards, and I was excited to see it, but...

Despite some good photography, I found myself really unengaged. The plotlessness made it seem to drag, and I really didn't care for (or about) any of the characters beyond the generic sympathy for another human being in a difficult situation. 

I spent the last hour or so interrogating myself and the film. How was it different from the films of Koreeda (which I usually like)? How much was the reading/viewing situation (long, rainy Monday) affecting the viewing experience? In looking back over Cuaron's filmography at IMDB, I am struck that he has done relatively few films farther apart in time, and he does seem to have done cinematography for a lot of shorts. So perhaps it is just that visual/narrative divide that separates me from a number of filmmakers that I feel like I ought to esteem more. I did briefly compare notes with the guy I watched the film with and he reported being similarly cool towards the film, focusing his comments on the inclusion of a story about the maid's boyfriend that no doubt tied the film to a specific time (1970) but further dissipated its focus. (There's a prolonged scene where he does martial arts in the nude because...well damned if I know.)

I think this got nominated over at  the Ecumenical Jury thread, so I know there are people I respect who find much to admire in it. I didn't feel like I understood it enough to hate it. 

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Interesting...by contrast to you, Ken, I'm not a big fan of Koreeda, but I loved this film.  I was occasionally aware of its long running time, but I was in awe of the tableaux created by Cuaron, and his meticulous recreation of an era.  (It probably helped that I saw this on a very big screen in Toronto; no doubt these feelings are diminished with a television or laptop viewing.)  I felt, too, that he was highly empathetic in juxtaposing the emotional struggles of the mother and maid both.  I expect this'll make my Top 10, if not my Top 5.

Here's my full review: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/2018/09/tiff-2018-dispatch-7-mexican-womanhood-an-outlandish-refugee-fable/

 

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I am glad to see your thoughts, Ken. I watched this last week with two other critics who raved about it. I had to sheepishly confess that I felt disconnected to the material nearly for the duration of the film. It's hard not to be affected by the childbirth scene (although I found myself impatient during the run-up to the delivery; "why is this pregnancy scene taking so long?"), and a late sequence at a beach during high tide struck me as a technical marvel. But for most of the film, I found myself wondering why I felt so little about what was happening. I had expected to be captivated by the cinematography alone, but even that didn't strike me as particularly dazzling. 

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image.png

I will never, ever complain about swag, because as Rebecca Cusey once quipped, I've already sold my soul to Paramount for a stale bagel. I will confess to this coffee-table book of photography inducing more eye-rolling than swooning. I mean I get that Cuaron is a prestige sign for Netflix, and that any awards would be a legitimizing feather in their cap. But I'm also having flashbacks to my pre-professional days when Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan and it seemed every subsequent story was about how the Weinsteins had open the floodgates for Oscar campaigning. I'm not sure why this bugs me -- other than I feel fraudulent for not liking the movie--but I guess I think Roma is now officially the frontrunner by default. 

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Interesting Op-ed piece in LA Times today growing out of Roma.

http://enewspaper.latimes.com/infinity/article_share.aspx?guid=0683abd3-fa20-4ab4-9b39-2e35c35aadfb - A troubled intimacy

Edited by Darrel Manson

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Watched it on Netflix a couple days ago. Still think it's wonderful, but it did lose a bit of the power it had on the big screen. TV just not as overwhelming.

 

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I'm thrilled to be in the same company as some of you... I found the film to be a highly cathartic, emotional experience, provided the person watching it being the writer/director, and perhaps his family.  As for me, I found myself on the outside-looking-in.  I simply didn't care for these characters as much as I'd hoped I would.  Even though there were some amazingly technical shots that were flawless.

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Guess I'm on the light side of this black-and-white divide? I loved it, and love Cuarón--he's my favourite of the "three amigos." I was moved to tears multiple times over the course of the narrative, so I find it interesting to hear descriptors like "aloof" or "detached" from multiple viewers, both in this thread and beyond. I wonder, what aspect of the film's style was so distancing for some, yet so alluring and affecting for others? The cinematography? Language? Pacing/editing process? 

One of the biggest surprises of our Ecumenical Jury list this year: Roma is neither in the Top 10 nor an Honourable Mention pick for any of the jury members.

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I'm with Joel. I loved Roma and it moved me immensely, both personally and politically. Nothing would make me happier as far as Oscars than for Yalitza Aparicio to win Best Actress.

Joel, I'm really sad to hear that no one picked Roma for a HM! If I had known, I might have even bumped BlacKkKLansman for it, since it's still jockeying with First Reformed as my favourite film of 2018.

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15 minutes ago, Anders said:

Joel, I'm really sad to hear that no one picked Roma for a HM! If I had known, I might have even bumped BlacKkKLansman for it, since it's still jockeying with First Reformed as my favourite film of 2018.

That is too bad.  Klansman certainly carries plenty of social significance, but it's too pat ending kept it off my Best of 2018 list.  Roma's long run time was felt by my tuchus, sitting in a Toronto cinema, but other than that I can find no fault with it.  I found its focus on Mexico's serving class, as well as the dissolution of Cuaron's family - all set against the social turmoil of the era - quite moving.  By spending so much time with members of an overlooked socioeconomic strata, I thought it was deeply humanistic (or spiritually significant if you prefer).  I wonder if the frequent complaints here of detachment have something to do with the stoicism/fatalism of the film's protagonist?

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46 minutes ago, Anders said:

Joel, I'm really sad to hear that no one picked Roma for a HM! If I had known, I might have even bumped BlacKkKLansman for it, since it's still jockeying with First Reformed as my favourite film of 2018.

My apologies! I nearly picked it myself, but chose Spider-Verse instead.

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Andrew wrote:
I wonder if the frequent complaints here of detachment have something to do with the stoicism/fatalism of the film's protagonist?

Something like that may be part of it. See, e.g., Richard Brody's review:

"Watching “Roma,” one awaits such illuminating details about Cleo’s life outside of her employer’s family, and such a generously forthcoming and personal relationship between Cleo and the children in her care. There’s nothing of this sort in the movie; Cleo hardly speaks more than a sentence or two at a time and says nothing at all about life in her village, her childhood, her family. She’s a loving and caring young woman, and the warmth of her feelings for the family she works for—and theirs for her—is apparent throughout. But Cleo remains a cipher; her interests and experiences—her inner life—remain inaccessible to Cuarón. He not only fails to imagine who the character of Cleo is but fails to include the specifics of who Libo was for him when he was a child.

"In the process, he turns the character of Cleo into a stereotype that’s all too common in movies made by upper-middle-class and intellectual filmmakers about working people: a strong, silent, long-enduring, and all-tolerating type, deprived of discourse, a silent angel whose inability or unwillingness to express herself is held up as a mark of her stoic virtue. (It’s endemic to the cinema and even leaves its scars on better movies than “Roma,” including some others from this year, such as “Leave No Trace” and “The Rider.”) The silent nobility of the working poor takes its place in a demagogic circle of virtue sharing that links filmmakers (who, if they offer working people a chance to speak, do so only in order to look askance at them, as happens in “Roma” with one talkative but villainous poor man) with their art-house audiences, who are similarly pleased to share in the exaltation of heroes who do manual labor without having to look closely or deeply at elements of their heroes’ lives that don’t elicit either praise or pity.

"That effacement of Cleo’s character, her reduction to a bland and blank trope that burnishes the director’s conscience while smothering her consciousness and his own, is the essential and crucial failure of “Roma.” It sets the tone for the movie’s aesthetic and hollows it out, reducing Cuarón’s worthwhile intentions and evident passions to vain gestures."

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I think Brody goes too far when he says that Cuarón fails to consider who Cleo is and her inner life. I do wonder under what circumstances Cleo would speak about her life in the village and her family. Frankly, the film rang true to me,  and what is left out is less a dehumanization of Cleo than it is a condemnation of the fact that in her experience with the family fails to offer her any space for that kind of expression. She is a cipher because the family, for all their care, doesn't actually have interest, or don't think to have an interest, in those aspects of her life.

I will also mention that my own understanding of the film is shaped by my wife's childhood experience as a missionary kid in Thailand who had a nanny/housekeeper who was very close to the family, not unlike how Cleo is to the family in the film. I've met her during our time in Thailand a decade ago. I won't presume to tell my wife's or her nanny's stories, but suffice to say it took a long time before the family found out some very basic and central things about their nanny and her family. The nature of the relationship is such; no one is saying this is a good thing. The film is asking us to consider the way that this relationship is, to use Alan Jacob's wording "circumscribed" by class, culture, language, etc. While we may see it as a failure of imagination or an effacement, I think it speaks to the particulars of the social relationship and to portray it otherwise would be presumptuous and ring false.

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7 hours ago, Anders said:

The nature of the relationship is such; no one is saying this is a good thing. The film is asking us to consider the way that this relationship is, to use Alan Jacob's wording "circumscribed" by class, culture, language, etc. While we may see it as a failure of imagination or an effacement, I think it speaks to the particulars of the social relationship and to portray it otherwise would be presumptuous and ring false.

Yes, all of this. I would consider Cuarón's approach more of a respectful distance marked by genuine curiosity/empathy rather than Cleo lacking an inner life or expressiveness. The way Brody would have it, it seems, we would invade Cleo's interiority and bring it all out to the surface; I preferred Cuarón's respect of her autonomy and personhood. It's probably because I'm immersed in the Dardennes' cinema right now, but don't they take a similar approach with their characters (albeit without as many slowly panning wide shots)? I saw it as allowing the character to simply be what she is--a fully human person, a mystery, someone rather than something to be explained.

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Anders wrote:
Frankly, the film rang true to me,  and what is left out is less a dehumanization of Cleo than it is a condemnation of the fact that in her experience with the family fails to offer her any space for that kind of expression. She is a cipher because the family, for all their care, doesn't actually have interest, or don't think to have an interest, in those aspects of her life.

You really think the final scenes with the family hugging Cleo at the beach and in the car "condemn" the family's relationship with Cleo? (I mean, if they did, then it would partly be self-condemnation on Cuaron's part, which is not impossible, but... I don't see it.)

I will, however, concede that when Brody says that Cleo "says nothing at all about life in her village, her childhood, her family," I find myself thinking that, on my second viewing of the film, I thought I noticed one or two comments that Cleo did make about her village, brief and cryptic though they were.

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42 minutes ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

Anders wrote:
Frankly, the film rang true to me,  and what is left out is less a dehumanization of Cleo than it is a condemnation of the fact that in her experience with the family fails to offer her any space for that kind of expression. She is a cipher because the family, for all their care, doesn't actually have interest, or don't think to have an interest, in those aspects of her life.

You really think the final scenes with the family hugging Cleo at the beach and in the car "condemn" the family's relationship with Cleo? (I mean, if they did, then it would partly be self-condemnation on Cuaron's part, which is not impossible, but... I don't see it.)

I will, however, concede that when Brody says that Cleo "says nothing at all about life in her village, her childhood, her family," I find myself thinking that, on my second viewing of the film, I thought I noticed one or two comments that Cleo did make about her village, brief and cryptic though they were.

That isn't what I said. Clearly the final scene is one of tenderness and love in the midst of an intense experience, where the welling up emotions of both Cleo after her stillbirth and the family after the father's leaving finally breaks on the beach.

I said that the fact that the film leaves out Cleo's life outside the family, and does not give us any insight into her "inner life" (Brody's issues), is the condemnation. Not that they don't genuinely love her. I do think that Cleo and the family genuinely love each other. I just think that the nature of their relationship precludes the family's inquiry into the rest of her life. It literally wouldn't occur to them to ask or grant that too her. And I think Cuarón is reflecting on his relationship with Libo and the paradoxical nature of it being both a relationship of love and one of labour and class relations. It's a reflection that I've seen my wife go through as well with her nanny in Thailand.

As I said in my review:

Quote

 

This sums up Roma’s thematic balancing act, and shows how narratively it functions as both Cuarón’s tribute to his own childhood caregiver at the same time it acts as an acknowledgement of his participation in a system of labour that perpetuated unequal structures, without being a self-flagellation. Perhaps this is why Roma’s strong class-consciousness has been less noted than other more overt political tales this past year. Roma is a film that understands class and the way that class structures even our most intimate relationships. Rather than seeing class antagonism purely in terms of individual animosity and malice, Roma posits such structures as being interwoven into our daily lives, through our relationships with our family and closest companions.

To sum it up, Roma portrays Teresa and her children as possessing genuine love for Cleo. But at the end of the day, she is still their servant. After a scene of intense emotional-bonding, Cleo picks up the laundry and returns to her duties. Roma would seem to suggest that sentiment and moral suasion are not enough to overcome the structures of power that unequally yoke us.

 

Posting the Alan Jacobs piece I mentioned above. https://blog.ayjay.org/the-circulation-of-roma/

Also, friend of some of us on the board, Joe Kickasola shares a nice reflection on the film as well, addressing the film as a kind of cinematic confession (perhaps a better term than self-condemnation that I used above). http://churchlife.nd.edu/2019/02/22/romas-wounding-confession/?fbclid=IwAR0XFmwjh1SOHRAVuaH4v6fIk-O91d-d5Eaou-7YcIjBWlFJqvzQ5DBvO2I

Quote

 

the film also functions as a personal confession, and true confessions are not easy. Our memories are the past itself, for us, tangled up in all the self-interest and misguided emotions that got us into trouble in the first place. Confession is surely necessary, but it is always, ever imperfect, and this is why grace is so critical from the offended party. Cuarón asks that of the housekeeper Liboria “Libo” Rodríguez (renamed “Cleo” for the film), and he asks that of us. But make no mistake, this is not mere penance, but gratitude, love, and an attempt to better understand the past.

Cuarón’s personal confession revolves largely around class, and the everyday glosses on the subject that privilege affords a child born into it. Even as a wiser, penitent adult, he can only look back through memory and what he has come to know, through the language he knows best: the cinema.

 

This line from Joe also answers Brody's complaint: "a check on the presumptuous urge to over-dramatize another’s life."

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On 2/28/2019 at 3:33 PM, Peter T Chattaway said:

Andrew wrote:
I wonder if the frequent complaints here of detachment have something to do with the stoicism/fatalism of the film's protagonist?

Something like that may be part of it. See, e.g., Richard Brody's review:

 

"In the process, he turns the character of Cleo into a stereotype that’s all too common in movies made by upper-middle-class and intellectual filmmakers about working people: a strong, silent, long-enduring, and all-tolerating type, deprived of discourse, a silent angel whose inability or unwillingness to express herself is held up as a mark of her stoic virtue. (It’s endemic to the cinema and even leaves its scars on better movies than “Roma,” including some others from this year, such as “Leave No Trace” and “The Rider.”) The silent nobility of the working poor takes its place in a demagogic circle of virtue sharing that links filmmakers (who, if they offer working people a chance to speak, do so only in order to look askance at them, as happens in “Roma” with one talkative but villainous poor man) with their art-house audiences, who are similarly pleased to share in the exaltation of heroes who do manual labor without having to look closely or deeply at elements of their heroes’ lives that don’t elicit either praise or pity.

 

I've been teaching Lit & Film this semester, and my students are required to do a short essay articulating the "ideology" of a film. This exercise has turned out to be harder than I anticipated, and I've found myself repeating umpteen times to undergraduates that the ideology of the film and the ideology of the culture the film depicts are two different things. 

I say that to frame my own comments and not because I don't think anyone here doesn't realize this. But realizing it and being confronted with how tricky it can be to untangle those things for even well-informed, articulate critics (as opposed to sophomores) has underscored for me how much reviewing or film criticism is in the form of pronouncements. I get that, and I don't mean it as a knock on Brody (or anyone for whom his argument resonates). But as has been frequently pointed out here and elsewhere over the last decade and a half, there is very little formal criticism in what passes for popular film criticism these days. I don't need need to give a midterm study session on the Kuleshov effect to be reminded that one man's "strong, silent, long-enduring, and all-tolerating type" is another man's emblem of unfathomable mystery and another's empty cipher. The key phrase in the paragraph above, for me is "offer working people a chance to speak." It suggests (and yeah, I know Brody is smarter than that and anyone's argument can be word-parsed, but bear with me) that dialogue is the only way to allow character to be revealed and that it's absent always (or at least consistently in the examples cited) means the same thing(s): virtue, resignation, etc. 

Quote

Yes, all of this. I would consider Cuarón's approach more of a respectful distance marked by genuine curiosity/empathy rather than Cleo lacking an inner life or expressiveness. The way Brody would have it, it seems, we would invade Cleo's interiority and bring it all out to the surface; I preferred Cuarón's respect of her autonomy and personhood. It's probably because I'm immersed in the Dardennes' cinema right now, but don't they take a similar approach with their characters (albeit without as many slowly panning wide shots)? I saw it as allowing the character to simply be what she is--a fully human person, a mystery, someone rather than something to be explained.

The film(s) that came to my mind, by way of comparison were actually Balthazar and maybe, Mouchette. I've been long enough in the small but real minority who are left cold by the donkey film, perhaps because it is a donkey film. Now there's a symbol of silent, suffering virtue. I make this comparison not to be glib but to defend those who don't like Roma (I was one of them) from the argument that, as Anders says, that the subject matter gives no space for the sorts of expression that Broday wants. I agree with (what I think) Anders (saying) that having her articulate the inner world would be not true to the character or culture. But I also find that defense a bit of a mark against the film. Aren't the great artists supposed to find ways of communicating that interiority even if the subject matter doesn't allow for dialogue? If the best we can say, with Joel, is that we presume it is there, that defends Cuaron on a political/social level but not necessarily on an artistic level. 

Having now said what I want to say, I'll push this way too far (and regret it) by saying that for its admitted faults, Green Book is a movie that depicts a character (two actually) whose experience doesn't offer the space to express interior complexity, yet also offers (an admittedly hamfisted) example of that character observing the world so that his transformed actions rather than his words point to what is going on inside. It's not my favorite film of 2018, but I'm just a little tired of the Twitter shaming of it and anyone who even marginally enjoyed it/appreciated it, while Roma gets public defenders on all fronts. Roma is a very easy film to defend in certain circles of the world right now, and I get that. Green Book is a very easy film to trash in certain cultural circles, and I get that, too. But I think it is possible that the one is not as good and the other not as awful as its most vocal admirers and critics insist. 

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