A contemporary art film riffing on the images of Italian neorealism and French poetic realism. As for Fellini, that element is slight, far more subdued than film's debt to the "Roma" of many post-WWII Italian films centering both on children, the lower classes, and the tragedies involving them. And I say "poetic realism," but I refer more accurately to Roma's sequence at the country manor that reenacts The Rules of the Game, including a hunting scene, a guy running around in an animal costume, and an unexpected emergency. For that matter, the upstairs-downstairs dynamic in Roma is like Renoir's film, but this time the help lives above its employers rather than below.

[Some slight spoilers to follow.] Cuarón's shout-outs to himself sometimes make a great deal of sense, particularly the pregnancy, the initial moment of labor, and the birth scene. All seem inverted from Children of Men, though I'm not sure this is nihilistic or even pessimistic, as some are saying. Rather, the inversion is ultimately superficial. Whether we point to the characters (Kee vs. Cleo) and their personality makeup, the place that their respective pregnancies occupy within their worlds (momentous vs. insignificant), or the results of those pregnancies, Roma *appears* to have pulled a 180 from Children of Men.

But at least two moments, I think, insist otherwise. (Having only seen the film once so far, these are the two that stand out, anyway.) The first moment comes immediately following Cleo's water breaking in the furniture store, after being rushed out to the car in the midst of the Corpus Christi Massacre. This is as close (with one possible exception, to follow) as Roma ever gets to an action scene, the likes of which we're used to seeing in Children of Men, Gravity, and even Cuarón's Harry Potter film. The moment should (and is clearly intended to) remind us of a similar moment from Children of Men, when Theo pushes Kee via wheelchair through strikingly similar urban streets littered with bodies. There, as here in Roma, the camera stops to gaze upon a nearly identical pietà image. The most famous of the pietà artworks is Michelangelo's, housed in Roma itself (well, the Vatican). In Children of Men, we get the pietà just following a "miraculous" birth, marking a new shift with global, political, and aesthetic implications I've explored elsewhere. But in Roma, our pietà arrives between two moments of trauma for Cleo, moments I won't spell out here. So although the pietà image here plays out almost identically to the one in Children of Men—a distracted camera drifts away from the central action to take in an image constituted by its excess—its function is both similar and different. But the difference, I think, is the difference of one side of a coin to the other. In both cases, we are reminded of death and grief, and how they coexist with life and hope.

The second moment that rejects pessimism and keeps Cuarón firmly grounded in his place (a place of life and hope) is the beach scene. I won't spell out what happens here, but I'll mention that I had a déja vù moment in the middle of the scene throwing me back to seeing Gravity for the first time. The feeling I had then, too, was precisely the question of nihilism, whether Cuarón would take us there or not. In that film and in this one, those respective scenes very clearly answered the question for me: he didn't take us there. In both films, a momentous loss impacts each protagonist, nearly driving them to despair. In each instance, these potentially hopeless moments transpire in such a way as to reground them. In both cases, the moments don't merely "transpire," but the characters actively and explicitly choose to redirect their pain into action. Hence the fact that this is Roma's second "action scene." For Cuarón, cinematic "action" reflects and is driven and by the internal states of his central characters rather action propelling them to (re)action.

This is why, as I've argued elsewhere, Cuarón's cinema is "neorealism realized." We have virtually all the pain and hopelessness of the old Italian films, but, in terms of both form and style (I'm responding to Bazin's comments on neorealism and long takes, ftr), Cuarón emends that movement into his own. This is also why I think it was so important that Cuarón "return" to a film like Roma after directing Gravity (which gets a semi-comical, perhaps superfluous nod earlier in the film). Although Gravity did let Cuarón explore these same themes and questions (and style!) in a blockbuster sci-fi context, that film was too distant from the urban, ground-level, war-torn pietà that's present in neorealism (I'll save that for some other time) and his own films. That The Rules of the Game is invoked is, in a way, an acknowledgement that 1971 Mexico can't be fully equated with post-WWII Italy/Germany. This both is and is not literally "Roma." The wealth and the class structure in Renoir's dramedy of manners (which ends with a stupid, quintessentially human tragedy) is one that persists in this context, coexisting with life/hope and death/despair. As with Cuarón's other recent films, the contemporary point of contact with that world is only too easy to recognize.

All that being said, I really missed Chivo.

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