The Documentary Gaze: Three keys to watch Alfonso Cuaron’s "Roma" Feb. 21, 2019

The Oscar-Nominated film “Roma”, directed by Alfonso Cuarón and recognized by many as the movie of the year, is a beautiful portrait of an episode in the life of an indigenous maid of a Mexican middle class family. Based on real life, Cuarón managed to capture a memorable narrative film with a marked authorial accent.

Here at Guidedoc we explain how the great cinematographic value of this film stems from a strong documentary heritage, based on an intimate and personal look and an aesthetic that comes from the first great documentary films in history.

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The look at the "other"

 


In order to discover who you really are, you need to look at yourself in a mirror. In "Roma", Cuarón writes a tale about his own childhood from the present but making an account of an episode in the life of his maid, a person with whom he created an emotional bond since childhood, but who belongs to a social circle very different from his.

This way, to look at the "other" was, from the beginning, the premise of documentary pioneers like Flaherty and his memorable "Men of Aran" or "Nanuk". In the postwar period, the directors of Italian neo-realism, being all of them from Italy’s middle class, would turn their gaze to the common man who would represent with their body and soul the emotional state of an entire nation.


The “natural” actress

 


The main characteristic of neorealism - since the mid-forties and until its contemporary heirs - was the use of actors with no previous experience to play the leading roles.

This is the case of "Cleo" (Yalitza Aparicio) the maid, an indigenous actress with enough kindness to convey the dreams of her character and the freshness to build a heartbreaking sense of realism.

Isn’t documentary the master genre to conceive the fascinating triad of person-character-actor? This combination generates an indecipherable sensation that completely undresses the vision we have about the representation of our world in images.


The cinematography and the pace

 


Watching Roma is to witness an indescribable pleasure between preciousness, raw reality and surrealism. Could such a rare thing even exist? After seeing the Netflix film one cannot help but to evoke the black and white images of Manuel Álvarez Bravo, the Mexican who revolutionized Latin American documentary photography.

Álvarez’s camera made the humble Mexico visible, always impregnating some magic and irony on the idiosyncratic symbols he used to capture it. The impression left by these images in our head has a lot to do with the slow rhythm in which they are shown.

Following the essence of direct cinema, to enjoy Rome you have to stop thinking about what will come next, to concentrate whether on what is happening now in the scene. Roma is an invitation to scrutinize the whole frame, just like a painting that overflows an immense reality off the screen.


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