Roma ★★★½

A decent piece of cinema, but in the context of Cauron's career, decidedly a disappointment, his least successful effort in two decades.

Roma, shot by shot, is regularly a majestic film, but unfortunately the film suffers from a misjudged directorial approach to story. Cauron has always had a bit of showboat in him, filling the frame with a backdrop carnival of eye-popping details and tricky camera movement flourishes. And, largely, we've been fine with that, even ecstatic about that, in the service of genre cinema.

However here such grand orchestration steps into the obnoxious. The film commences with some nice enough bits of slow cinema, but Cauron doesn't really have the meat to pull if off, compared to the likes of Tarr and Diaz, who more ably evince their embedding in political specificity linked up more broadly with timeless themes. That is present here, but in more cardboard terms. This new excursion of his talents, a restless director with his restless audience, doesn't suit him nor convince. Too often, he chooses to strip his figures down into something more archetypal than personal, allowing him to posit them within landscapes of roiling audiovisual life and indulge in big shots whilst crafting a slight, semi-autobiographical story. I'd argue this sort of story only works by containing it. The sound was the real standout of the film for mine, I felt the subtleties of that roadside traffic scene (before coming across the absent father) through my feet.

Roma does have many little moments which impress, including one of those endings where you plead with the director to end it right there, and he does just that. The progressively devastating portrait of men as conspicuously absent, irresponsible, and harmful is like a potent tidal force. The second half of the film is sheer prowess. The characters are well crafted whenever we get a decent taste of them. I just don't think Cauron was the director to tell this particular film, which might read as a hurtful statement to a director who clearly feels this film in his veins, but Roma demonstrates both his visionary strengths and hubristic weaknesses as a filmmaker.

Roma is a good film with several great scenes, but in total (and given the scale of acclaim) was a disappointing return from a director who frankly misjudged this project. Unlikely to see this again in a hurry. Roma might ultimately be seen as the film that brings Netflix to the Oscars, but in the wider scheme of cinema it contributes some technical flourish whilst treading water.

Don't get me wrong, I liked Roma well enough, but the affected classicism weighs it down, and for a director from whom we constantly demand fresh, innovative contributions to cinema, the relatively stale Roma offers little that is new. Even among a subgenre of 2010s semi-autobiographical household maid films, something like Ilo Ilo wipes the floor with Roma.

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