JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Roma | Widows (Directors: Alfonso Cuarón, Steve McQueen) - January 12, 2019

Roma | Widows

4.5 4.5

Reviewed for the 2019 edition of the Palm Springs International Film Festival
One hit and a too-predictable miss

Alfonso Cuarón
134 minutes, Four and one half stars

A wonderful homage to our most precious commodity and superb cinematography

From the opening credits through to the final church bell tolling in Mexico City’s Colonia Roma, it is clear that his portrait of an upper-middle-class family, their servants and Borras, the perpetually pooping family dog, is one of best conceived and mostly realized productions of this year’s awards season.

Director-writer-cinematographer Cuarón signals from the get-go that his film will unfold at a leisurely pace—those looking for drug lord violence or perhaps a gritty tale of the plight of European gypsies will head to the exits (or another film from the Netflix library). The few measures of Berlioz’s calming Symphonie Fantastique as the family patriarch (Fernando Grediaga plays the wayward doctor) quite literally bashes his way into the gated garage, driving a Ford Galaxy—that becomes one of the narrative’s set pieces, and metaphors: many things look like they will fit together, but often don’t—also contribute to the establishment of the recurring mood and tone.

It falls to a pair of women to feed the plotlines from completely different perspectives, but, ultimately, the same, shared fate: “We are alone.” Marina de Tavira is quite convincing playing the woman of the house, Sofía, as she comes to grips with chain-smoking husband whose extended trip to Québec (incongruously and lazily, he is sending fake letters to his children from Ottawa—last time I looked, Canada’s capital was still in Ontario), while actually living the good life with his mistress. Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) is one of a pair of maids that attempt to keep the large house clean and its inhabitants “running on time”, including four young children and Sofía’s mother—Verónica García being the weakest link in the ensemble). For a cinematic début, Aparicio grows stronger in every scene, with the hospital drama becoming a riveting few moments that will remain in memory for a very long time.

Cleo’s love interest, Vermín (Jorge Antonio Guererro will delight martial arts enthusiasts of any persuasion with his beautifully courageous demonstration of mind and body working as one au naturel), while most surely a warrior to be reckoned with, has no sense of decency when thrusts of a different sort come to their inevitable conclusion.

Like far too few other films, this is one that can be savoured with the sound switched off. In Cuarón’s ever-capable hands, the screen is awash with tantalizingly long pans (the circular late-night switching of the household lights is a gem), up-shots and faraway views of all sorts (the drama at sea is hair-raising in what it doesn’t show), few could disagree that the Best Cinematography Oscar should well go here.

The icing on the cake in this homage to 1970-71 is the decision to shoot it all in black and white, artfully reminding thoughtful viewers that it is the elements of grey that frequently provide the most food for thought.


Steve McQueen
129 minutes, Two and one half stars

You can see it coming

Here’s a—initially—classic heist, revenge-fuck caper that opens well but soon loses its way in the believability/credibility departments. Director/co-writer McQueen along with fellow screenwriter Gillian Flynn and Lynda La Plante (who penned a pair of six-part television mini-series originally broadcast in 1983, 1985 for BBC—not surprising then, that this version feels more like a small- rather than a big-screen production) try their best to keep the surprises coming, but from a tell-all flask to some people who just won’t stay dead and buried, the revelations are too often confirmation instead of “aha” moments.

The first-rate cast do their best to raise the bar (Robert Duvall savouring every moment of his grumpy old man role; Viola Davis deftly anchoring the quartet of unlikely thieves), but the noticeable lack of real tension takes the wind out of the narrative sails, becalming the good ship Widows

Nuff said. JWR

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