Tag Archives: Gravity

Roma

MA 15+, 2 hrs 15 mins

Netflix

Review by ©Jane Freebury

5 Stars

In all the best possible ways, Roma reminded me of being a film student again. Of seminar weekends sitting watching something from the archive that proved a revelation. A meditation on the personal and collective human experience, wonderful to watch, like this film here.

Roma is not a film from an unknown, of course, or a first-timer with something new to say. Far from it. The most recent film by Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron was Gravity, an immersive, spellbinding journey in space that was huge at the box office, worldwide.

This film is something very close to the director’s heart, a story from his childhood in the Colonia Roma neighbourhood of Mexico City. The family home, the street on which he lived and other locations in the city are meticulously recreated to look the way they did in the early 1970s.

Attention to detail contributes to Roma’s distinctive look and style. Filmed in widescreen, in digital black and white, it is an intimate story yet mostly told in long shot. Instead of using the close up much to establish connection, there are long sweeping, panning shots that keep everyone and everything in view, as though they are all of a piece. And editing is so minimal, and pacing so unhurried, you could be lulled into thinking it is in real time. The rhythms of everyday life get the dignity they deserve.

Besides directing and co-producing, Cuaron was writer, cinematographer and co-editor here.

Cuaron’s young self is not the main character, either. It is the former maid and nanny who looked after him and his brothers and sister, while their parents were often absent without leave. The narrative begins with the marriage between Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), a doctor, on the point of breaking up.

After a long day at the hospital, Antonio enters the driveway in his Ford Galaxie, too large for the space. Not without comedy, he inches in tortuously, avoiding a scratch on the duco, but squishing the wheels over the piles of dog doo-doo scattered around. It is a constant source of irritation to Sofia, unreasonably so, and besides, Borras has nowhere else to do his business.

The family home is a generous space where children have large bedrooms, while the maid, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio, an untrained actor like most of the cast here), and her domestic companion the cook, Adela (Nancy Garcia Garcia), share a tiny room at the top of steep stairs above the roof and the washing lines. We note this and a hundred other inequities.

Netflix

Cuaron collaborated with his former nanny and family maid during screenwriting. He dedicates this film to Libo and to her class, domestic workers who have looked after and been surrogate mothers to generations of the wealthy middle-class. A dramatic scene on a beach with surging surf demonstrates the risks she would go to for the children.

Cleo’s affair with an intense young man makes connection between events outside the home and political upheaval at the time, like a notorious massacre in the city of student demonstrators by paramilitaries. Their brief affair results in a pregnancy that only embeds her deeper within the family.

After his films on the epic scale, Gravity and Children of Men, and since the very memorable Y Tu Mama Tambien, an intimate, sensitive portrait of coming-of-age, Roma is a powerful reminder of the scope of Cuaron’s talent.

With its roots in both poetic realism and neo-realism, Roma is also a reminder of what cinema can be when not driven by commercial imperatives.

 

Jane’s reviews are also published by the Canberra Critics Circle, the Film Critics Circle of Australia, and broadcast on ArtSound FM 92.7

Gravity

Review by © Jane Freebury

The vast emptiness of space is now lodged in our collective imagination as a pretty unsettling concept. Maybe even harder to accept than extra-terrestrial monsters or alien forms of life. The idea that we may be alone in the void, with only a few microbes buried in soil some millions of light years away for company, is hard to get your head around. Is there anybody out there, please?

Nothingness doesn’t seem to bother medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), rookie member of a NASA team sent aloft to work on a Hubble telescope. It’s the silence she likes the most, though we do learn later why the lady wants to be alone. After a horrifying, deadly encounter with speeding debris the team is reduced to two, Stone and the mission commander Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), a veteran intent on marking his last mission with a space walk for the record books.

Bullock and Clooney make an intriguing combination but the screenplay doesn’t much capitalise on this odd couple of the sensible, congenial and sometimes dogged female persona and the gorgeous and effortlessly suave male. It could have been mined for more. Indeed the writing by director Alfonso Cuaron and his son Jonas is the weak point here. It also struck me that Bullock was very breathy in the early scenes for a cool-headed professional, but maybe it was the Clooney effect after all. However, when she finds herself entirely and perilously alone, a little heavy breathing is to be expected.

The very best thing about this movie is not the stars but the simulated experience of space where the life and death struggle takes place in a terrible awesome silence. How wonderful to watch extended sequences uncut. So immersive.

Stanley Kubrick gave us a Strauss Waltz to watch as space stations spun in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Cuaron gives us some country and western, until Stone asks Houston to switch it off, but it is the silence in the elemental setting that is so powerful as Stone and Kowalski tumble around like flotsam in a fathomless sea. Six hundred kilometres above earth, where there is zero oxygen and nothing to carry sound, is so brilliantly created it must be close to the real thing.

It is not surprising to hear that Cuaron wanted to be an astronaut. What boy who watched the first walk on the moon live on TV didn’t? Anyway, he soon became an aspiring film director and has brought us terrific films like Y Tu Mama Tambien and Children of God. I don’t think that his latest film tops the human drama in either Moon or Apollo 13, both wonderful space adventures, but for sheer immersive visual pleasure Cuaron’s Gravity is really something.

3.5 stars