REVIEW: Camino a Roma (2020 – Documentary)

Release Poster – Netflix

The following is a review of Road to Roma (Orig. Title: Camino a Roma) — Directed by Andrés Clariond Rangel & Gabriel Nuncio.

Andrés Clariond Rangel and Gabriel Nuncio’s Road to Roma is a making of-documentary about Alfonso Cuarón’s Oscar-winning Netflix film Roma. This documentary is available on Netflix right now, but it will also be available on the upcoming Criterion Collection release of the Netflix film. Therefore, one could argue that this is really just a glorified special feature, but since the documentary has a runtime of 73 minutes, I think, it deserves to be treated as its own thing and be reviewed, just like I reviewed Anthony Wonke’s The Director and the Jedi.

When the documentary begins, Alfonso Cuarón shares his opinion that cinema and loneliness go hand in hand. Of course, the late great Roger Ebert once said that films generate empathy. Films can help you to understand and share the feelings of someone unlike you. Roma is a very personal film to the aforementioned Mexican auteur. As this documentary makes clear, Roma was created from memory. With Roma, Cuarón shared his memories and made himself a little less lonely, and, with Road to Roma, we may now understand the creative precision with which the film was made better. This documentary shows us what it is like to be able to share memories without restriction on the big screen for all to see.

Unsurprisingly, the making of-documentary for a Spanish-language feature from a Mexican director is in Spanish. However, unlike the aforementioned masterpiece, Road to Roma is in color, which means that the documentary gives you a peek behind the curtain to see the real items and locations that were presented so beautifully without color in the film. In fact, I think that the documentary gives you a great appreciation of the images in the final film. Cars, costumes, and tiles now have color. The world so effectively made to appear nostalgic and ‘of memory’ now feels real and palpable. As presented in color in the documentary, the characters and locations now have this natural appearance to them that is somehow unlike the magic of the final film. Seeing the locations that were once enveloped in the magic of black-and-white is strange in a way that is difficult to put into words. I suspect this may not mean much to those individuals who were not moved by the film, but, to me, just this one peek behind the curtain was eye-opening. Sometimes you only know the power of a cinematic technique once it is taken away.

The documentary consists of a long interview with Alfonso Cuarón, the auteur of Roma, and a lot of supplemental behind-the-scenes footage from the production. Therefore, as we get to see the various meticulously recreated houses or streets, we also hear Cuarón talk about how dissimilar his work on Roma was to his previous films. Roma was based more on anecdotes than an actual screenplay. The auteur did not need to do extensive research to make it because he lived it. Instead, he talks about how difficult it was for his crew to find and create the small details that he could only remember. If he had imagined a certain tile in a certain color and pattern, then they needed to find it or create it from scratch. Cuarón explains that, once they had recreated this detail, the act of seeing the same tile after all these years opened up so many more memories for him to pull from. His loose narrative outline was dependent on the crew opening these doors for him to discover new things through.

It is a treat to get to see Cuarón work with his cast, direct them, and listen to their concerns. I thought it was particularly fascinating to hear him talk about how chaotic and difficult the dialogue-heavy family scenes were to act in for Marina de Tavira — a professional actor thrown into some very untraditional and hectic scenes. But, I think, the most impressive moment in the documentary is the footage of Cuarón, his crew, and his cast shooting and performing the delivery room scene. There are some really memorable, natural, and priceless reactions in this section of the documentary.

However, I wish the documentary would’ve branched out and done more than it ultimately did. It would’ve been nice to hear from other people who worked on the film, or perhaps those who were particularly moved by it. But we only see behind-the-scenes footage and a lengthy interview with Alfonso Cuarón. While it is intriguing to hear from Cuarón and learn more about his creative process, it does become somewhat tedious for the simple fact that Cuarón is basically talking about a film that is so intrinsically tied to himself. He keeps harping on the fact that everything was recreated down to small details, and then talks about his own experience of reliving it or remembering new details of it. It is exciting at first, but it does become slightly repetitive. However, those who did not fall head over heels in love with Roma may feel that this documentary is swollen-headed, self-important, or turgid. But if you have any interest in learning more about what it is like to make a film about your own life and your own memories, then Road to Roma is a fascinating documentary to watch. It is going to work really well as a special feature on Roma‘s Criterion Blu-Ray release. For better or worse, Road to Roma is as much a celebration of Roma as it is a celebration of the auteur who made the film what it is.

7 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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