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Alfonso Cuarón
Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey
Writing Credits:
Alfonso Cuarón

A year in the life of a middle-class family's maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s.

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Spanish Dolby Atmos
Spanish Descriptive Audio
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 135 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 2/11/2020

• “Road to Roma” Documentary
• “Snapshots from the Set” Documentary
• “The Post-Production Process” Featurettes
• “Roma Brings Us Together” Featurette
• Trailer
• Booklet


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Roma: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (2018)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 17, 2020)

2019’s Parasite achieved a seemingly impossible task: it won the Best Picture Oscar despite the fact it came from South Korea and focused on Korean dialogue. To that point, a non-English language movie had never won Best Picture.

One year prior, though, 2018’s Roma nearly accomplished that feat – maybe. I say “nearly” because the movie received tons of praise and acted as a Best Picture frontrunner, ajnd I add “maybe” because we’ll never know how the vote went.

Still, because Alfonso Cuarón took home the Oscar as Best Director, one assumes the movie got plenty of Best Picture votes. However, the Academy opted for the wholly American – and very “safe” - Green Book as the recipient of its biggest prize.

We’ll never know how Roma did in the BP voting, just as we’ll never know if the “Netflix Factor” impacted its chances. Though it ran on a small number of movie screens, Netflix financed Roma primarily as a property meant for their streaming service.

This caused controversy, as the Academy needed to confront the notion of what makes a movie a movie. They’re still grappling with that idea, and it’ll just get stickier as time passes and the various streaming services throw more and more money at big names, but Roma seems like it probably suffered the most from the arguments.

Or maybe the Academy just preferred a gentle movie about how a white dude learned to be less racist.

Set in Mexico City circa the early 1970s, Roma focused on Cleo Gutiérrez (Yalitza Aparicio), a housekeeper who works as one of two live-in maids for an affluent family. Matters become strained when patriarch Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) abandons the clan.

This leaves matriarch Sofía (Marina de Tavira) on her own to care for four kids, so she relies heavily on the support of Cleo. Along with these duties, Cleo copes with her own unexpected pregnancy.

I admit it: I didn’t look forward to Roma. That’s not because of an aversion to non-English films or those with the small dramatic scale found here, though.

Instead, based on what I heard and saw of it, Roma just looked boring. I got the impression it’d offer more than two hours of domestic monotony with little to leaven the ennui.

You know what? My suspicions proved correct, as Roma brings us the thinnest of narratives and little dramatic momentum to grab us.

The fact Parasite scored the Best Picture Oscar denied to Roma becomes intriguing because both touch on themes related to social class. The two films depict the differences between the affluent and those who serve them, but they do so in radically dissimilar ways.

With Parasite, we get a brisk, nearly Hitchcockian tale of intrigue and deceit. With Roma… we don’t.

Indeed, we barely get a story at all. According to Cuarón, “[Roma] is an exploration of Mexico's social hierarchy, where class and ethnicity have been perversely interwoven to this date and, above all, it's an intimate portrait of the women who raised me in a recognition of love as a mystery that transcends space, memory and time.”

Sounds good, and in the director’s head, it proves rich, emotional and satisfying. For those of us who don’t reside inside Cuarón’s noggin, though, the journey seems much less likely to enthrall.

On the surface, the decision to focus on Cleo seems intriguing, as the view of a privileged life through the lens of the working class comes with potential. Perhaps if Cleo and/or the rest offered anything other than the most basic of bland characters, this might succeed.

Alas, no one here ever develops into an even vaguely compelling personality. For all the emphasis on Cleo, she never turns into anything more than an object of moderate sympathy, as we care for her due to circumstances but not dramatic evolution.

Sure, Roma comes with plenty of room for interesting material, mainly via problematic romantic relationships. In addition to the split between Antonio and Sofia, Cleo’s boyfriend Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) abandons her as soon as he learns of her pregnancy.

This leaves a story ripe with opportunity for drama, but Roma largely ignores these possibilities. Instead, it concentrates largely on the monotony of daily life.

In theory, I appreciate this low-key approach. Most movies would milk the character domains for all their melodramatic worth, so Cuarón’s decision to avoid ostentatious fireworks should make me happy.

Perhaps it would if something actually ever happened here. Since too much of the “plot” remains slow and dull, the movie remains off-putting, as we find too little to occupy our attention.

Cuarón clearly chose to emphasize day-to-day “nothing” as an illustration of a certain style of life. As depicted here, plenty of potentially dramatic events occur – an earthquake, riots, etc, - but they barely impact Cleo and the family.

I get it: they live in a bubble, and they only find themselves concerned with personal interactions. Point taken, Cuarón!

Again, this might prove effective if it felt like Cuarón built to a real purpose or point. He doesn’t, so the film ambles without much drama to maintain our attention.

Roma does attempt greater drama during its third act, with mixed results. A scene in which armed insurgents threaten Cleo proves laughable due to the idiotically coincidental identity of a gunman, but the segment in which Cleo gives birth offers the movie’s biggest punch, as tragedy results.

While this becomes the film’s most impactful sequence, it still doesn’t work as well as it should because Roma sets up Cleo in such a bland, distant manner. We should be devastated by the course of events, but instead, we just feel vaguely sad.

Along the way, Cuarón fashions a form of feminist tale, as he focuses on strong women who suffer from selfish men. Unfortunately, he brings no insight to the subject, and instead, he sticks us with hackneyed dialogue such as “no matter what they tell you, women are always alone”.

Eep. With lines like that, Cuarón got an Oscar nom for his screenplay?

Cuarón did win an Academy Award for the film’s photography, and that one seems deserved. Whatever I think of the rest of Roma, it provides a stunning visual achievement.

From start to finish, the movie boasts impeccable cinematography. Every frame seems worthy of note and looks gorgeous.

Too bad this becomes a triumph of style over substance. Roma may tell a tale of great personal importance to Cuarón, but that doesn’t make the end result interesting or compelling to anyone else. Roma becomes a beautiful but boring journey.

The Disc Grades: Picture A/ Audio B/ Bonus B+

Roma appears in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became a stunning presentation.

Sharpness was strong. Virtually all of the film looked concise, with nary any softness on display.

No concerns with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge enhancement remained absent. Source flaws also failed to create problems.

The black and white elements boasted nice contrast and impact. Blacks were deep and firm, while shadows showed good delineation. All of this left us with a top-notch transfer.

One shouldn’t expect much from the film’s Dolby Atmos soundscape, as it remained decidedly low-key. Downconverted to Dolby TrueHD 7.1, it did occasionally offer a bit more pep than expected, as effects used the side and rear speakers in a moderate manner.

Not much occurred in this regard, as even an earthquake took up only a brief moment, but the mix managed to spread elements in discrete locations, and these moved well. We also got some localized dialogue, even in the rear speakers. Nothing here dazzled, but the material prompted reasonable involvement.

Audio quality was fine. Speech sounded natural and distinctive, without edginess or other issues. No score accompanied the film.

Effects were clean and accurate. They didn’t often tax my system but they satisfied. This was a more than acceptable soundtrack for a character piece.

As we shift to extras, we start with Road to Roma, a one-hour, 12-minute, 53-second documentary. It includes comments from writer/director Alfonso Cuarón.

“Road” looks at the project’s roots, development and influences, autobiographical and historical elements, production/costume design and attempts at authenticity, story/characters, cast and performances, sets and locations, photography, and related domains.

With so much time at his disposal, Cuarón covers a lot of production elements, and footage from the set helps. However, Cuarón often seems to do little more than tell us how accurately the movie reproduces his youth and the era, so it doesn’t work as well as I might hope.

With Snapshots from the Set, we get another documentary. This one spans 32 minutes and features producers Gabriela Rodriguez and Nicolas Celis, casting director Luis Rosales, actor’s mother Margarita Martinez Merino, executive producer David Linde, production designer Eugenio Caballero, gaffer Javier Enriquez, filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski, visual effects supervisor Miguel De Hoyos, music supervisor Lynn Fainchtein, still photographer Carlos Somonte, architect Carlos Gamboa, and actors Yalitza Aparicio, Fernando Grediaga, and Marina de Tavira.

“Snapshots” examines casting and performances, costumes/period elements, working with Cuarón, production design, sets and locations, visual effects, and music.

“Snapshots” picks up the slack for the subjects left out during Cuarón’s chat. We still get some thoughts about the movie’s personal nature, but “Snapshots” offers a more nuts and bolts look at the production, so it satisfies.

Two programs appear under The Post-Production Process: “The Look of Roma” (20:43) and “The Sound of Roma” (27:14). Across these, we hear from Cuarón, postproduction supervisor Carlos Morales, editor Adam Gough, finishing artist Steven J. Scott, sound designer/re-recording mixer Skip Lievsay, re-recording mixer Craig Henighan, and sound designer Sergio Diaz.

As expected, these programs look at cinematography/visuals as well as audio design. Despite the technical emphasis, these shows don’t feel geeky, as they provide good insights into various creative choices.

Roma Brings Us Together fills 18 minutes, 32 seconds and features Rodriguez and Celis. They discuss the movie’s distribution/exhibition and press tour in this fairly informative reel.

In addition to two trailers, the package concludes with a booklet. This includes essays from novelist Valeria Luiselli, historian Enrique Krauze, and author Aurelio Asiain as well as art and credits. It becomes one of Criterion’s better booklets.

Filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón regards Roma as his most personal work, but that doesn’t mean it translates to others. While it offers outstanding cinematography, the movie seems slow, thin and dull. The Blu-ray boasts excellent visuals as well as good audio and a nice array of bonus materials. Monotonous and stagnant, Roma bores.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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