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Movie review: All Oscar noms lead to ‘Roma’

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    CONTRIBUTED Photo courtesy NETFLIX
    Yalitza Aparicio, “Roma”

Published February 20. 2019 12:28PM

“Roma” is a fascinating film not so much for what it reveals, as for what it doesn’t reveal.

“Roma” is a revealer of the obvious.

In this, “Roma” director Alfonso Cuarón shows us “A Day in the Life,” or in the instance of “Roma,” a year in the life of a Mexican family, 1970-71.

The film’s title references Mexico City’s Colonia Roma area. The film is semi-autobiographical, based on the life of Cuarón, who wrote, directed, filmed, co-edited and produced “Roma.” It’s a celluloid memory.

It’s Cuarón’s most personal film, in the independent cinema tradition of director François Truffaut’s New Wave breakthrough, the semi-autobiographical, “The 400 Blows” (1959), and director Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical, “Roma” (1972).

Cuarón’s “Roma,” which is in black and white (it was apparently shot in color and then printed in black and white to heighten image intensity), unfolds so leisurely that you may wonder what, if anything, is going on.

The opening scene is that of water shooshing back and forth. Is it water on the border of a swimming pool? Is it water lapping on the sands of a beach? The lengthy shot is seen during the film’s opening credits. A reflection of a commercial jet airliner is visible high overhead in the sky.

Slight spoiler alert: It’s sudsy water that, with a mop, is being used to clean the floor of the entrance area of the house where the film’s protagonist, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), is the family housekeeper.

Water figures thematically throughout “Roma” for Cleo personally, in helping to solve a crisis, and in the climactic scene. Water gives life, saves life and can take away life.

The details in “Roma” provide the film’s chief rewards. The film is for the most part slow-moving, filmed with available (natural) light, and with scenes held on particular characters and scenes with little or no dialogue. The camera pans slowly, deliberately.

At times, “Roma” is not unlike a silent film. The camera becomes an observer, lingering and considering the action in each scene. The moviegoer looks beyond the surface realism to fully enjoy the immersive cinematic experience that is “Roma.”

“Roma” constantly surprises with its images and naturalistic storytelling. To reveal almost any of the plot would be a spoiler. It’s a small story with big themes that are universal. Cleo figures prominently in the storyline, and has an important scene near the film’s conclusion that is nothing short of heroic. The dialogue is poetic. The film has moments of mirth.

Cuarón (Oscar recipient, directing, editing, “Gravity,” 2013) took great pains to re-create the era, including the streetscapes (the commercial store signs), vehicles (the mid-1960s Ford Galaxie that doesn’t quite squeeze into the garage), costumes (the females’ lovely print dresses), TV shows (“Porky Pig Show”) and the music (“I Don’t Know How To Love Him” from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice and sung by Yvonne Elliman), to cite a few examples.

The upper-middle class family includes, in addition to Cleo, who lives in the house and is very much a part of the family, Sofía (Marina de Tavira), the wife; her husband, Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), a doctor; Sofia’s mother Teresa (Verónica García), four children, and another maid, Adela (Nancy García), who also lives in the house. Cleo has a boyfriend, Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero).

“Roma” strips a cinematic story down to the essentials: A family trying to get by in the mid- to later 20th century.

“Roma” is a deceptively simple film about the many astounding complexities of life. Don’t miss it.

“Roma,” MPAA Rated R (Restricted Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.) for graphic nudity, some disturbing images, and language; Genre: Drama; Spanish with English subtitles. Run Time: 2 hrs.; 15 mins.; Distributed by Netflix.

Credit Readers Anonymous: “Roma” was shot on location in Mexico City.

Oscar buzz: “Roma” received 10 Oscar nominations, tying with “The Favourite” for the most Academy Award nominations in the 2019 contest. “Roma” is Oscar-nominated for Picture, Foreign Language Film (representing Mexico), Director (Cuarón), Leading Actress (Aparicio) and Supporting Actress (de Tavira), Original Screenplay (Cuarón), Cinematography (Cuarón), (Production Design (Eugenio Caballero, Barbara Enriquez), Sound Editing (Sergio Diaz, Skip Lievsay) and Sound Mixing (Skip Lievsay, Craig Henighan, José Antonio García).

Oscar Picks: Leading Actor: Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born.” Leading Actress: Yalitza Aparicio, “Roma.” Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, “Green Book.” Supporting Actress: Regina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Directing: Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma.” Best Picture: “Roma.” Animated Feature: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”

Box Office, Feb. 15-17: “Alta: Battle Angel,” the manga comic book heroine with the big eyes, proved big at No. 1 for the Presidents Day weekend, opening with $27.8 million, weekend; $36.5 million, since opening, disassembling “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part,” dropping to No. 2, with $21.2 million, $62.6 million, two weeks, as “Isn’t It Romantic” opened at No. 3, with $14.2 million, weekend; $20.4 million since opening Feb. 13.

4. “What Men Want” dropped two places, $10.9 million, $36.1 million, two weeks. 5. “Happy Death Day 2U,” $9.8 million, weekend; $13.5 million, since opening Feb. 13. 6. “Cold Pursuit” dropped three places, $6 million, $21.1 million, two weeks. 7. “The Upside” dropped three places, $5.5 million, $94.1 million, six weeks. 8. “Glass” dropped three places, $3.8 million, $104.4 million, five weeks. 9. “The Prodigy” dropped three places, 3.2 million, $11 million, two weeks. 10. “Green Book,” with five Oscar nominations, dropped three places, $2.7 million, $65.7 million, 14 weeks.

Unreel, Feb. 22:

“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” PG: Dean DeBlois directs the voice talents of Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, F. Murray Abraham and Cate Blanchett in the animated feature comedy. Hiccup must find “The Hidden World,” a dragon utopia, before Grimmel finds it.

“Run the Race,” PG: Chris Dowling directs Mykelti Williamson, Frances Fisher, Kristoffer Polaha and Tanner Stine in the sports drama. Two brothers on a small-town high school football and track team learn to get along.

Four popcorn boxes out of five popcorn boxes.

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