Sunday, January 6, 2019

A Few Notes On Roma

I watched Roma through from the point I gave up on it a couple of weeks ago. I wanted not to like it simply to confirm my initial sense of it from the first 20’ or so. But it grew on me and came across as quite affecting. 

I’m in the Anthony Lane camp rather than the Richard Brody camp on this movie. 

There’s a lot of commentary on how technically brilliant it is—wide shots, tracking shots, monochrome, lens choice—with someone even saying the virtuosity at times is a distraction. I don’t know much about film technique so I look to what in the film’s story draws me into it, my sense of  its substance, if any. 

Roma drew me in. 

I could go on for a while about things I noted in it like, for one example, how Cleo, pregnant, was the only one of everybody who could close her eyes, stand on one leg and bend her elevated leg into her other leg in the shape of a triangle, a great act of mind and will according to the famous grandiloquent professor leading the exercises.

I think the idea of class is very strong in the movie but it’s not editorialized about: it just is what it is as far as the family and the servants are concerned. The film presents life as it is as seen by Cleo and how it impinges on her.

She is passive in the face what she can’t control, from the massive eruptions and upheavals around her, to the smaller things like the rejection of her by Fermin, who says to her with scornful dismissal, “Damn servant.” 

For it’s not good or bad, it just is, that she is and always will be servant, a maid: the grandmother doesn’t know the first thing about Cleo when she’s asked details by the hospital administration in order to complete necessary forms; Cleo is just someone who she and her family employ for as much as she is loved and appreciated by it and for as much as she loves the family. I of course see the togetherness with Cleo in that near-to-end-of-movie, now iconic shot of them all clinging to each other on the beach after the rescue. But I never lose the sense that even in that clinging togetherness the family is one thing and she is another thing. There is no transcending that.

The final shot is of Cleo ascending the outside stairs while a plane flies overhead through, so to say, the wild blue yonder. My sense of that scene is that Cleo is as earthbound and fixed into the spot of her small world as a maid to this family doing her routine of domestic chores just as surely as the plane is off somewhere taking its passengers to far way places beyond Cleo’s possibilities . And that’s just the way it is, is the film’s attitude towards that. The mother, Mrs. Sofi, changes over her arc in the movie, from a wreck after her husband leaves her to emerging finally as a together woman with a new job—leaving teaching biochemistry to work in publishing—firmly in charge of the well being of her brood. Cleo moves through no such arc or any similar arc, and, by the movie’s intimation, is unlikely to. 

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