Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Independent Film Festival Boston 2018.180: Roma

I very nearly wound up skipping the last day of the Fall Focus entirely - the closing night film sold out before I could buy my tickets, but that was okay because it's not like I really wanted to deprive anyone who wanted to see the new Yorgos Lanthimos film early a seat, considering that my opinions on his films have generally ranged from "interesting idea but wobbly" to "go screw yourself". Same deal with Olivier Assayas's Non-Fiction, though maybe less viscerally since it's actually been a while since I've watched one of his films. In between, The Burning, but having shown up for Roma, I'm not so sure about killing to in Harvard Square just waiting for the second movie of the day. Instead, I'll go check out Fresh Pond's good-intentioned but pretty much empty screening of the original Halloween, crossing my fingers that Well Go would get their movie onto local screens.

But, Roma was added to the schedule relatively late and since it isn't likely I'd be getting Netflix anytime soon (for reasons admittedly more silly than practical or principled), I wanted a chance to check it out on the big screen. Tickets weren't on sale online when I got home after Saturday's festivities, so I headed out there for the rush line, where I wound up being the last person let in, and as such winding up right behind a tall guy with big hair and annoyingly good posture. There was a reason why that seat was the last one, despite it's nice central location.

Lots of leaning back and forth to read the subtitles and I still wouldn't trade paying for that screening for streaming it to my living room. I've heard that it's going to get an unusually generous two-week theatrical window with some actual 35mm and 70mm prints finding their way to some theaters (though maybe not around here). It's a great movie that works with a crowd and looks fantastic blown up big; it probably deserves to be quickly marched off into the Netflix servers even less than most of their productions/acquisitions do. It's good enough for me to ponder whether being picked up by the streaming service is going to cause it trouble down the road - folks like the Brattle and Harvard Film Archive (to give local-to-me examples) are going to want to program it as a part of Alfonso Cuarón retrospectives or in series about Italian Neorealism and those it influenced, and I don't think we've really had a test of how that goes yet. Netflix has, by and large seemed completely indifferent to traditional movie exhibition, whether in theaters or at festivals, except as a way to give their product prestige with little effort or expense; theaters are understandably leery about booking films they know people can see for free online. Will Roma wind up excluded from its rightful place in film history because of its ownership?

Time will tell. For now, Roma is coming out sometime in December, and is worth a trip to the theater and the money for a ticket even if you'll be able to see it for free just by waiting a couple weeks.

Roma (2018)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 October 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival Boston Fall Focus, DCP)

There are those that believe that subtlety is the mark of truly great art, and manipulation is its enemy, but it seems unlikely that Alfonso Cuarón is among them, and not just because he has done as much popular, commercial work as art-house material. Roma falls into the latter category, and viewers can spend a lot of time teasing out how it works and what its symbols mean, but even without putting that sort of academic effort in, they'll feel what Cuarón is saying and be pulled along. It's superficially a piece of film-snob material that anybody can enjoy.

It takes place in Mexico City of the early 1970s; Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) and Adela (Nancy García García) are two Mixteco servants to a comfortable family, with Cleo a particular favorite of the children. The father, Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), is a doctor of some renown, briefly at home before leaving for a conference in Montreal - one which gets extended until it becomes clear he's not coming back. Sofia (Marina de Tavira) sinks into understandable despair, putting extra weight on Cleo, who is now expecting her own child with a father (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) more interested in revolution than domesticity.

It's a crying shame that this is a Netflix film and very few people will get to see its stunning black-and-white photography on the big screen; it's striking and uses its widescreen composition impeccably. Cleo and the rest do not often stray far from the city, but when they do, Cuarón gets the sort of picture that seems to sink deep into the screen, a world that swallows their personal concerns. At home and in the city, Cuarón doesn't quite shoot the film like a soap opera or a stage play, but one gets the feeling that wherever possible, every room and outdoor space has been carefully built or scouted to match the widescreen frame, a tight box than both limits and comforts Cleo and Sofia and a space that, while nevertheless cinematic, puts the audience in a space to accept melodrama.

Full review at EFC.

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