Roma (Cuarón), The White Crow (Fiennes), Peterloo (Leigh)
The profound core of humanity, wrapped in black and white, bound tightly around the intricacies of life in Mexico City from the uniquely-autobiographical vantage point of director Alfonso Cuarón. Slow building, but richly rewarding, scene-after-scene, with impeccable sound mixing and cinematography that needs to be seen on the big screen.
Set in the early 1970s, the film follows the life of a middle class family and their live-in housekeeper. It moves through the scenes of the mundane day-to-days to the lavish-lifestyle-of-the-rich-and-famous, where even the gates and the walkways of luxury cannot escape the political realities and excrements of man–kind. Roma is a brutal take on the tragedies of life, met in equal measure by the beauty of familial perseverance from the vantage point of strong women who sense their solitude even in a world of company. As Stephanie Zacharek (TIME Magazine) writes poignantly:
Cuarón is a superb craftsman, but his real gift is that he puts human nature above filmmaking. Roma follows in the tradition of neorealist filmmakers like Vittorio De Sica and Satyajit Ray. No one else is making movies like this today.
Roma takes the philosophy of feminism and makes a case for its effectively use in cinema where so many other films simply peddled in its ideas without the requisite nuances it deserves. A must see film of 2018 and my (presumptive) pick for the Best Foreign Film of the Year.
THE WHITE CROW
Written by David Hare and directed by Ralph Fiennes, The White Crow is a film about the Ukrainian dancer Rudolf Nureyev who rose to fame as an impressive and uncompromising ballet dancer while defecting from his home in the Soviet Union after becoming to friendly with the western crowds of Paris deemed dangerous to the interest of Soviet brainwashing. Despite rich source material and an impressive display of dancing, thanks to no small measure on the casting decision of the filmmakers to use an actual dancer, Oleg Ivenko, the film is ruined by the atrocious acting from Ivenko whose incompetence as an actor could not be redeemed by his ability on stage. Here, in Nureyev, was a difficult personality, rooted in egoism, chauvinism, and pedantry. In choosing to cast a non-actor, director Ralph Fiennes’ potential to build a character study surrenders to a desire for fine choreography. The White Crow is one of those films taken from Russia’s culture by the West and ruined by poor writing and non-Russian speaking actors like Ralph Fiennes. Adding Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue is the Warmest Color) to the mix as an undeveloped supporting role of a battered and loyal friend who lacked the confidence to stand-up for herself did nothing to help the films already failed effort for putting out a complete character study. Her Jackie Onassis transformation at the end was pure comedy.
Aside from the scene at the Le Bourget Airport, which showed promise of a compelling narrative about the role of international diplomacy and asylum law, the movie offers little else outside the dance floor. Fiennes has failed here as a director.
Master writer Mike Leigh has brought an unforgettable drama about the Peterloo Massacre — brilliant in scope and in language beyond anything I’ve seen in a very long time. The Massacre itself occurred, fittingly, at St. Peter’s Field (as the betrayal of the people by their country), Manchester, England, on 16 August 1819, when cavalry charged into a crowd of 60,000–80,000 who had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation.
The film, until the final minutes, is an indelible rush of rhetorics and political excursions into the life of the lower class citizens of Manchester in their struggle for equal representation, as well as glimpses into the wider efforts of reformers who demand justice and equal rights for all. The cross-section view into the behavior of judges shows the power wielded by those entrusted as caretakers of justice and the miscarriage that man is capable of perpetuating in their opportunistic ploys for self-preservation.
While the end has much to be desired, with an almost anticlimactic finale rooted in internal squabbles and the conflicting desires between violence and peace, Mike Leigh delivers the standard for period drama writing, unlikely to be matched for years to come.