Film Review:‘Roma’ delivers soul, spirit — and a dash of Mexican magic

A still from 'Roma.' (Supplied)
Updated 19 December 2018
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Film Review:‘Roma’ delivers soul, spirit — and a dash of Mexican magic

  • “Roma,” weaves a magical family tale with endearing simplicity and sensitivity
  • The film is set in a prosperous household in Mexico City’s Roma neighborhood in the early 1970s

CHENNAI: Tipped as a strong Oscar contender, Alfonso Cuaron’s magnificent black-and-white magnum opus, “Roma,” weaves a magical family tale with endearing simplicity and sensitivity.

The film is set in a prosperous household in Mexico City’s Roma neighborhood in the early 1970s. But its soul and spirit come from the maid, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), who takes care of the family — and their pet dog — with clockwork precision.

Based on Cuaron’s own maid when he was growing up, Cleo is seen cleaning the driveway as the movie opens, and we later see her doing the laundry, taking the four children to school and helping out in the kitchen. For the most part, Cleo hardly speaks, and appears stoic and solemn, but she shares a beautiful bond with her mistress, Sofia (Marina de Tavira).

Dotted with intimate detail, “Roma” is a splendid study of a family whose idyllic life goes into a tailspin, as does that of the maid. Scenes including the children trying to put out a forest fire while on holiday are so finely shot that they remain etched in memory.

There are many more such moments: A man shot dead in a furniture shop during the 1971 Corpus Christi massacre; Cleo saving two children from drowning in the sea. It is rare to see such thought going into a film, and the compelling black-and-white photography — handled by Cuaron (who also wrote and co-edited) — give “Roma” a strong documentary feel.

The film continues to make headlines after appearing on Netflix on Dec. 14. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival, where it clinched the Golden Lion for best picture, and is now on the first shortlist for the 2019 foreign language Oscar.

Cuaron, who gave us the exhilarating “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” and fantasies such as “Gravity” and “Children of Men,” has created a neorealist work that is both grand in scale and extraordinarily intimate.


Film Review: Line of Descent is a dramatic tale of crime and atonement 

Updated 16 February 2019
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Film Review: Line of Descent is a dramatic tale of crime and atonement 

CHENNAI: Cinema has often told stories about crime families. Hollywood’s “The Godfather” series, or Scott Cooper’s 2015 “Black Mass” with an unrecognizable Johnny Depp, or even Bollywood’s bloody thriller “Titli” about a Delhi carjacking family, which first screened at Cannes in 2014. 

The latest addition to the genre is writer-director Rohit Karn Batra’s “Line of Descent” which premiered on Sunday at the European Film Market, currently running alongside the Berlin Film Festival. This movie is also set in Delhi, India’s crime capital, where some families have built unimaginable wealth through nefarious land deals, extortion, kidnapping and murder. 

An aged patriarch, Bharath Sinha (essayed by Hindi cinema’s legendary villain, Prem Chopra), heads a family of three sons — Prithvi (Ronit Roy), Siddharth (Neeraj Kabi) and Suraj (Ali Haji). Equally at home in Delhi’s seedy underbelly as in some of the poshest enclaves and among India’s elite, this is a clan with many conflicting faces, unified on the outside, but conflicted within by division, vice and repentance. 

Bharath’s notoriety as a criminal gives way to remorse and shame for the legacy he will leave behind. His death, and the bequesting of all his ill-gotten wealth to his eldest son Prithvi, creates a storm among the brothers, with Siddharth demanding his share so that he may partner with an arms-dealer, Charu (Brendan Fraser). When things begin to get out of hand, a cop named Raghav (Abhay Deol), is drawn into the mix, and asked to go undercover. 

“Line of Descent” is tightly and imaginatively scripted. Its exposition of organized crime is masterful, and some brilliant performances, especially from Deol, Roy and Kabi add a dash of class to an otherwise gritty enterprise. A compelling dramatic arc is established from the start in this fast-paced thriller, and the themes of guilt and atonement permeate throughout the movie, with both coming home to roost for the Sinha family in a touching final sequence.