Unveilings of anticipated awards-season competitors continue apace at the 75th annual Venice International Film Festival, which runs through Sept. 8. Critics were previously awed by this year’s opening-night selection: Damien Chazelle’s depiction of ‘60s-era space travel in “First Man,” starring Ryan Gosling as astronaut Neil Armstrong as he travels to the moon. The fest’s second day brought “Roma,” filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron’s gorgeous black-and-white neo-realist ode to his ‘70s childhood in Mexico.
“Variety” critic Owen Gleiberman expressed mixed feelings about Cuaron’s aesthetic approach – the director acts as his own cinematographer — that both dazzles and yet distances the audience from the events that surround a middle-class family and Cora, its devoted housekeeper. As he writes, ““Roma” is no mere movie — it’s a vision, a memory play that unfolds with a gritty and virtuosic time-machine austerity. It’s a Proustian reverie, dreamed and designed down to the last street corner and scuffed piece of furniture. Yet I actually think it’s far from a masterpiece, because as a viewing experience it has a slightly hermetic coffee-table-book purity.”
On the other hand, Indiewire’s Eric Kohn had nothing but raves for Cuaron’s first Spanish-language film set in his native country since his 2001 road-trip movie, “Y Tu Mama Tambien.” A sample: “Cuarón’s “Roma” is by far the most experimental storytelling in a career filled with audacious (and frequently excessive) gimmicks. Here, he tables the showiness of “Children of Men” and “Gravity” in favor of ongoing restraint, creating a fresh kind of intimacy. Like a grand showman working overtime to tone things down, he lures viewers into an apparently straightforward scene, only to catch them off guard with new information.”
And Stephanie Zacharek of “Time” lavished praise upon newcomer Yalitza Aparicio as Cora, the beating heart of “Roma”: “This is a beautiful, understated performance: Aparicio anchors the story not with actorish technique but with remarkable lightness—she holds the movie as if it were a string connected to a balloon.”
There is more to come on Friday, as the premieres of Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born” and the Coen brothers’ anthology Western “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” are scheduled.