The film of the year is here
Roma (M, 135 mins) Directed by Alfonso Cuaron Reviewed by Graeme Tuckett ★★★★★
Roma takes place over a few months in 1970 and 1971. We are in Mexico City, embedded in the lives of a modestly prosperous EuropeanMexican family and their staff.
Inside the house, a marriage is slowly imploding. Outside, riots and police brutality are a part of the daily fabric of life.
Alfonso Cuaron’s semiautobiographical tale starts slowly. The characters and settings are unhurriedly sketched in. A few moments that will pay off gorgeously – a car parking in a garage, a marching band of tuneless pomposity – are teased into existence.
In the past decade or so, Cuaron has become one of the very best film-makers of his generation. Roma finds Cuaron back home, in a place he last visited in his exquisite Y Tu Mama Tambien, but now with a full arsenal of hard-earned cinematic wizardry to draw on.
The single-shot set-pieces in Children of Men and Gravity are legendary. But Roma is technique pared back to the essentials. As great chefs aim for perfection with ever fewer ingredients, so Cuaron is building some of the most astonishing moments I have ever seen on a screen from an absolute minimum of moving parts.
A visit to a furniture store to buy a cot sets up a sequence that will be dissected by film students for years.
A visit to a beach becomes a scene of such dread and beauty I literally stopped breathing until it was resolved.
At its heart, Roma is a film about the women and mothers who keep the world turning no matter what dishonesty, belligerence, narcissism, and posturing, the men in their lives throw at them.
Roma is assuredly a love letter from Cuaron to the Mexico of his childhood, but it is also a missive of infinite adoration and respect to the women who raised him.
The term ‘‘masterpiece’’ gets chucked around far too loosely, and I mostly try to avoid it. But once in a lucky blue moon, there really are no other words to do a film justice.
Roma is the best film I have seen this year. Go watch it in a cinema while you can. Ghost Stories (M, 98 mins) Directed by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman Reviewed by Graeme Tuckett
With the likes of The Haunting of Hill House available at a flick of your TV remote, it must be challenging to make original horror movies for the big screen. But there is definitely a mini golden-age of horror happening right now. A Quiet Place, Raw, The Babadook, Hereditary and even the recent Halloween relaunch, have all found – and deserved – their audience.
Meanwhile, The Conjuring franchise and its many mokopuna are at least technically very competent, and written with a refreshing awareness of exactly what they were put on this Earth to do. So can a British indie based on a stage play muscle in and make a buck here in Godzone? I hope so because A Ghost Story has plenty to like about it.
The film is a loose trilogy of stories, connected by a sceptical ‘‘paranormal investigator’’ who is out to debunk anything supernatural. But when he is challenged by his ageing mentor – now living alone in a caravan and clearly housing a few possums in his top branches – to find an explanation for three particular cases, our man Phillip (Andy Nyman, who co-directs) has no choice but to get to work.
The first case involves a nightwatchman at a derelict hospital, haunted by a vision of a young woman who may be channelling his own paralysed and comatose daughter.
The second features a young man who is convinced he is cursed after running down a mysterious figure on a country road.
And the third – which stars Martin Freeman – is a grim retelling of a poltergeist and at least one tragic death.
Until this point, Ghost Stories plays as an anthology movie and I was underwhelmed as I waited for the credits to roll. But writers and directors Nyman and Jeremy Dyson have saved the best – an explanation of sorts – for last.
And finally I began to appreciate why Ghost Stories played to packed theatres for more than a year. If you’re still paying attention at about the 80-minute mark, you’re in for a treat.
Ghost Stories isn’t quite on a par with the very best of the recent horror renaissance, but it delivers its share of shivers and jumps with a restrained inventiveness I truly appreciated.
Roma takes place in Mexico City over a few months in 1970 and 1971.