Logan Kenny’s review published on Letterboxd:
saw this in theatres, so you can’t talk shit to me for not watching it properly. the audio is the worst part of this movie. in an attempt to create an all encompassing theatrical experience, it produces an overwhelming soundscape. you hear little sounds from everywhere, the bark of a dog from a few houses over, the musicians playing down the street, the sound of the wind blowing against objects. because of this attempt to create something all encompassing, it succeeds at two things, firstly creating a situation where you’re unable to grasp onto specific sounds because everything’s diluted to fit into the mix, and secondly creating something so overwhelming that often it reminded me why i wear headphones in public. the clutter in the mix is unbearable at times and with the exception for the waves sequence, completely distracting and limiting, and honestly put me totally on edge throughout the entire runtime. for something apparently so intimate and focused on reminiscing with childhood and living memories through the medium of cinema, the audio seems like nothing more than an unnecessary flex from a director with access to much money.
but that’s one aspect of the design, an important one but only a single part of a large machine. the rest of the film oddly falls flat as well. the visuals are stunning but suffer from the same sort of emotional detachment as Cold War from earlier in the year. despite its pretences of empathy, it keeps its subjects at a distance and only utilises them for emotional manipulation. the main character is kept at a distance, never truly empathised with or portrayed as a character and by the end is used to try and draw tears out of the audience through suffering. there’s no texture of memory, no feeling of reliving or processing memories differently, there’s nothing concrete here to grasp onto as a viewer. as someone with an issue of having too much empathy, to the extent that it can be emotionally painful, it’s heartbreaking to feel so little by the end. the only emotions i felt were ones of desperation, to get out of the auditorium and go home, because it brought back memories that i didn’t want to live, it made me feel trapped in my own body. i think lots of its writing is both bad and underdeveloped, that people are excusing a lot of its varying problems because of its framing, which notably adds nothing to the movie because of its already mentioned lack of connection with its protagonist. there’s a ton of screenwriter bullshit, from every sequence with the ex boyfriend, to the rebellion scene that comes out of nowhere, to the moment where a random man sings to the camera while a forest burns behind him. none of this feels genuine and takes away from the portentous attempts at realism cuaron’s trying to craft, at points feeling parodic of art film tropes.
there seems to be an attempt at tackling misogyny as well, with cleo being violently threatened by the man that impregnated her, a woman at a party being sexually harassed and insulted when she says no, and even cleo’s employer saying that something vague about the suffering of women. all of this feels artificial as well as cuaron refuses to dig far outside of his own privileged perspective to analyse and show the systematic misogyny that an indigenous maid would have received in the 70s, hell even now. his lack of perspective extends to class and the political turmoil, never going into it except for moments where he can manipulate it for screenwriter beats (similar to the empathy issues mentioned earlier) it feels entirely forced and poorly done. he can’t reckon with class or the issues that a woman of cleo’s class would have had to deal with in a climate that largely viewed her as nothing but labour, because that would have required looking back at his own status critically. i’m sure there was love between him and his maid. but to ignore most of the actual issues, her perspective in favour of content that doesn’t reveal or say anything except the same sort of beats that we’ve heard in a hundred years or cinema, is disingenuous and quite insulting.
the lead actress is incredible and the cinematography is frequently beautiful but i left, giving the movie over 2 hours of my time for the experience itself, and 2 hours for travel, on top of the mental energy i put into being able to go and see it, and got nothing but a feeling of discontent in my chest and a bitter taste of disappointment. the subject deserves better. cuaron, go back to making studio movies with craft instead of trying to be like fellini for people’s tablets.