“Roma” (2018)

If you stopped halfway into Roma on Netflix, go back to finish watching the movie. I get it. It got compelling at the 96 minute mark.

The movie is slow. “Slow as molasses” like my mama used to say. Slow like it used-to-take-forever-to-get-on-the-internet-in-the-early-1990s-because-we-only-had-dial-up-modems slow. If the movie was in English, I would have been doing chores while half-watching. Since it’s in Spanish and has subtitles, I had to pay attention. I’m glad I did. Even the slow building beginning is a piece of art. From minute 96 to the end, Roma is cinematic genius.

The movie premiered at the Venice International Film Festival in August 2018 and opened in theaters in November ahead of its Netflix debut in December. Roma has already earned multiple awards and nominations, including three Golden Globe awards, and Best Picture and Best Director at the British Academy Film Awards. Roma is also nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Director for Alfonso Cuaron.

Cleo surrounded by the family she serves. The moment leading up to this group hug is gold.
(Carlos Somonte / Netflix)

Roma tells the story of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), an indigenous Oaxacan live-in maid for a middle-class Mexican family in Mexico City. Cleo is particularly close to the four children. Their bond is key to the movie’s climactic ending. Roma is set in 1970 and 1971 against Mexico’s political strife. Political and domestic tensions rise together in this movie. There were moments where I couldn’t breathe.

Cleo struggles through an unplanned pregnancy at the same time her employer Senora Sofia (Marina de Tavira) is grieving the loss of her marriage to Senor Antonio (Fernando Grediaga). Protests against the government are also coming to a head. The movie comes to a crescendo while a pregnant Cleo and the children’s grandmother, Senora Teresa (Veronica Garcia), are crib shopping for Cleo’s baby. They are caught in the middle of an anti-government protest and have a gun pointed directly at them by the unlikeliest person.

Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) and Senora Teresa (Verónica García) walking amid student protesters in Roma. (Carlos Somonte / Netflix)

You don’t have to know anything about Mexican politics to understand the film. Watch the movie first, then go here to learn more: http://time.com/5478382/roma-movie-mexican-history/

This movie is director Alfonso Cuaron’s love letter to his childhood maid, Libo. I was happy to see a movie about an indigenous woman and it’s HER STORY told from HER point of view. Yalitza Aparicio is the first indigenous woman to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Actress (and this is her first acting role ever). I think Glenn Close will win that category, but Arparicio deserves her nomination. I know for sure this movie will at least win Best Director at the Academy Awards. It’s a beautiful film.

Nine out of Ten Mocha Angels.

Roma is rated “R” for graphic nudity, some disturbing images, and language.

Up next: My Oscar predictions. Who should win and who will win.

“Coco” (2017)

Miguel wants to sing and play the guitar like his idol, the late Ernesto de la Cruz, a legendary singer. When his dog Dante accidentally shakes the ofrenda and knocks over a photo of Imelda, Coco, and the great-great grandfather with his head ripped away, Miguel sees his relative holding a guitar belonging to Ernesto de la Cruz. Miguel believes de la Cruz is their relative. When Miguel reveals this information and his musical ambition to his family, they do not understand. His Abuelita (grandmother) angrily demands he choose between music and his family. She also destroys Miguel’s own makeshift guitar.

Twelve-year-old Miguel Rivera is the only music-loving person in a multi-generational Mexican family that has banned music from their lives forever. Miguel’s great-great grandfather abandoned his wife Imelda and daughter Coco for a life on the road as a musician. No more music after that. Ancestors are revered and always remembered. Their photos and food are left on the ofrenda (altar). Imelda and all her descendants became shoe-makers. Such is Miguel’s destiny.

Miguel and his dog Dante in the Land of the Dead

Miguel runs away to enter a talent show. He needs a guitar, so he steals de la Cruz’s from the mausoleum dedicated to him. The marigold petals around Miguel light up and suddenly he sees deceased spirits on this Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). No one alive can see Miguel except his dog Dante. Some of Miguel’s relatives escort him to The Land of the Dead, which is more alive than The Land of the Living in many ways.

Miguel finds his great-great grandmother Imelda angry because she cannot travel back to The Land of the Living on this auspicious day. Her picture was knocked off the ofrenda.  The family learns that Miguel has a curse placed on him for stealing a guitar of the deceased de la Cruz, which has turned him into an incomplete spirit. Miguel must leave The Land of the Dead by sunrise or he will turn into a spirit forever.

Only a blessing from a deceased relative can send Miguel back to The Land of the Living. Imelda gives Miguel her blessing on one condition: give up music. He promises to do so. Miguel is transported back to the mausoleum, then immediately takes the guitar. Three seconds later he is back in The Land of the Dead because he broke his promise. Furious, Imelda demands Miguel do what she says. Miguel refuses and runs off to get the blessing of his great-great grandfather Ernesto de la Cruz.

I’m stopping at the point where Miguel leaves for his quest to find Ernesto de la Cruz. This movie is SPECTACULAR. It has every possible fantastic thing going for it, including stunning, colorful animation, beautiful music, and a near perfect story.

Coco also raises the stakes: Miguel MUST return home by sunrise or he is stuck in the spirit world. Hector, his ally, MUST have Miguel place his photo on the ofrenda ASAP or he will fade into nothingness. By the time Miguel, back in The Land of the Living, runs to his Mama Coco, my tears were already falling. The ending is right up there with all three Toy Story movies, which all ended on the perfect note. (Makes me worried about Toy Story 4, so we’ll see.)

The only thing I didn’t like was that I didn’t see the movie in a theater. “Coco” is a film meant to be seen on a big screen.

An enthusiastic Ten out of Ten Mocha Angels.