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Roma

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron

Netflix

The best film of 2018. Alfonso Cuaron, a master filmmaker with one of the keenest eyes in cinema—not just for deep-focus long takes, but for understanding “otherness” (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men, Gravity)—creates a film of stunning beauty, palpable heartache, and quiet majesty.

 

Roma has been called “immersive cinema,” where the spectator feels like they are inhabiting the cinematic space; in this case, it’s Roma, a bustling neighborhood in Mexico City, where Cuaron grew up in the early 1970s. The immersivity is achieved through diegetic street sounds coming from off-screen corners, a lack of non-diegetic music, long takes where the camera tends to turn rather than move, and, especially, crucial images on multiple planes of an unbelievably deep depth-of-field.

 

Cuaron (the writer, director, cinematographer, and co-editor) also chose to shoot in strict continuity (linear story order), withholding the screenplay from the cast and crew and dispensing lines to the actors only on the morning of the shoot. When crucial moments were depicted, both cast and crew were often caught off guard, displaying raw reactions (including weeping) while continuing to film.

 

Cuaron employs all these techniques to transport us into the vivid but unsettled memories of his childhood. His subtle avatar is a 10-year-old boy in an upper-middle-class family comprised of four siblings, a caustic mother, and a mostly absent doctor-father. But the narrative remains sutured to their maid, Cleo (the heartrending, first-time actress Yalitza Aparicio). Cleo ironically supplies the love and maternal attention the mother withholds from the children, yet she is continually reminded of her outsider/servant status, both by the adults in the home and by society at large.

 

My favorite scene of the year is the dynamic-in-its-banality opening shot, where we see stark, sullied tiles and hear the slow, somber approach of scrubbing. Eventually a slosh of water flows over the tiles, revealing the reflection of a slowly moving jet overhead. Cleo’s inescapable lower class, combined with her underprivileged sex and local racial/linguistic signifiers, allow her glimpses of a soaring upper class of society, while she is forever stuck in the muck on the floor.

– Dr. David C. Simmons

EDITOR’S CHOICE

Love, Gilda

Directed by Lisa D’Apolito

CNN

For anyone that grew up on the original Saturday Night Live and National Lampoon comedy albums, this documentary is a must. Friends and admirers of Ms. Radner reflect on the woman’s greatness, and for once there are talking heads on CNN who know what the hell they’re talking about. Plus some very intimate home movie footage taken during Gilda’s cancer ordeal—her resilience continues to inspire, but I felt like it was an invasion of privacy on my part.

– Chris Manson

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