Film Review: Roma

Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma is beautifully shot. Yet for all its allure, the film may leave viewers wanting something more.

Cleo works as a maid for a middle class family in 1970s Roma, Mexico. Cleo must attend to the family during a time of upheaval, whilst also living her own life…

Based on his own childhood memories, writer-director Alfonso Cuarón has created a very personal film with Roma. The film centres on Cleo, and her life as a live-in servant for a middle class family. The protagonist and her place in both society and the family structure is established early on. Cuarón follows Cleo as she washes clothes on the roof. As the camera pans round, viewers see Cleo is just one of many maids doing exactly the same thing. The filmmaker is telling us that Cleo’s position was the norm rather than the exception during this period in Mexico.

As the film progresses, Cleo’s relationship with the different members of the family develops. The protagonist’s personal life is also delved into, with a strand about a romantic liaison and the outcome of this. There is a lot going on in the background of the film, such as stunts and student protests. Yet Cuarón keeps the focus on Cleo and the family. The themes of privilege, class, and race are present, yet the filmmaker does not really make any comment about this.

Cleo is a sympathetic protagonist for sure, but her story is not told with a removed affection. There is a sequence later in the film at the hospital which is startling and very well executed. Cleo is portrayed as individual in her own right – one with her own dreams – despite her selfless persona. Yet whilst her devotion to the family is rewarded by the children’s great affection, her existence is a thankless one. If Cuarón means to say that he appreciates the maid from his own childhood, it feels a little patronising to deem her worthy of this acknowledgement.

That is not to say Roma is a bad film. There is a lot to like about the film in fact. The attention to detail is most impressive, as is Cuarón’s framing at times (the director is also responsible for the cinematography). Performances Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira are great. The drawback of Roma is that it feels like it is meant to be a compliment to its protagonist and people like her, which does not sit well.

Roma is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018.

BFI London Film Festival 2018 Launch

Today saw the BFI London Film Festival 2018 launch. Now in its 62nd year, the festival is screening 225 feature films, including 21 world premieres. Here are some highlights from the festival programme…

Headline Galas

The Opening and Closing Gala films had already been announced. The BFI London Film Festival 2018 opens with Steve McQueen’s hotly anticipated Widows, starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, and Colin Farrell. McQueen co-wrote the  screenplay with Gillian Flynn. McQueen’s last film, 12 Years A Slave, screened at the 2013 London Film Festival to great acclaim. Stan & Ollie, which features John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan as the legendary comedy duo, closes the festival. Other headline galas include Luca Guadagnino’s hotly anticipated Suspiria, Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner, and Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?. A particular highlight is Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest. The Favourite is about Queen Anne’s court, and stars Olivia Colman, Rachel Weiss, and Emma Stone. 

Strand Galas and Special Presentations

There are several great looking films in the Strand Galas and Special Presentation programmes. They include Barry Jenkins’ follow up to Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk, which is an adaption of James Baldwin’s novel. Others in this category include Lee Chang-dong’s thriller Burning, and Alfonso Caurón’s first film since Gravity, Roma, and Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Special Presentations include Michael Moore’s Donald Trump documentary Fahrenheit 11/9, Carol Morley’s noir thriller Out of Blue, and George Tillman Jr.’s The Hate U Give. 

Official Competition

There are some big names in this year’s Official Competition. Films include David Lowery’s (A Ghost Story) The Old Man & The Gun starring Robert Redford, László Nemes’ (Son of Saul) Sunset, and Ben Wheatley’s Happy New Year, Colin Burstead – Wheatley’s Free Fire closed the 2016 festival. Also competing is Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer, starring Nicole Kidman. Meanwhile the Documentary Competition features Putin’s Witness (Svideteli Putina’s film featuring footage of Putin from 1999-2000) and Julien Faraut’s John McEnroe: In The Realm Of Perfection. First Feature Competition includes Isabella Eklöf’s Holiday and Paul Dano’s Wildlife. 

Strands

As in previous years, the eleven programme strands are back. Love features Fred Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and the Sandra Hüller starring In The Aisles. Debate includes Oliver Assayas’ latest, Non-Fiction, starring Juliette Binoche and Guillaume Canet, and Catherine Corsini’s An Impossible Love. Laugh includes New Zealand comedy The Breaker Uppers, about two women running a relationship break-up service. Amongst the Dare programme is The Green Fog, which sees filmmakers Guy Maddin and Evan and Galen Johnson remake Vertigo using clips from other people’s films. Thrill includes Kim Nguyen’s The Hummingbird Project (starring Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgård), while Cult features Nicolas Cage in Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy. 

Jessica Hynes directorial debut The Fight is part of the Journey strand, and Create includes Joan Jett documentary Bad Reputation. Richard Squires’ Doozy, which recreates the career of Hanna-Barbera’s villain actor Paul Lynde is one of the Experimenta films being screened. The Family strand features Linda Hambäck’s animated detective tale Gordon & Paddy. Finally, there are some great films being screened as part of the Treasures strand. These include Billy Wilder’s classic Some Like It Hot and Mae West in My Little Chickadee.

The BFI London Film Festival 2018 runs from 10th-21st October. The full programme can be viewed here.