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Only At Digital Gym Cinema: ‘Roma’ And ‘Snowflake’

Micro cinema hosts new Alfonso Cuaron film and German import

Photo credit: Netflix

Alfonso Cuarón directs actress Yalitza Aparicio on the set of "Roma."

Digital Gym Cinema will be the only place in San Diego to see Alfonso Cuarón"s "Roma" (which just garnered an armload of awards nominations) and the crazy German import "Snowflake."

Before I get to the reviews of these two films, let me just give thanks to Digital Gym Cinema, and to Moises Esparza who programs the films and to Ethan Van Thillo, the executive director of Media Arts Center that oversees the cinema. For full disclosure, I serve as a volunteer programmer at the venue working as part Film Geeks SD and I deeply appreciate the ability to run yearlong film series in partnership with the 46-seat micro cinema. But in addition to the cinema's willingness to partner with groups like Film Geeks is the fact that Esparza and Van Thillo work diligently and passionately to bring diverse programming to San Diego, and without their efforts many films would not play in a cinema here in town.

They worked especially hard to book Alfonso Cuarón's "Roma" because the film is a perfect example of how they see media being able to change lives and perspectives. Cuarón, a Mexican filmmaker who has had mainstream Hollywood successes as well as personal films made in his homeland, is exactly the type of filmmaker they want to highlight, and "Roma" is the type of film that is needed at a time when President Trump is talking about building a wall at our border.

What makes their decision to screen the film even more commendable is that they are taking a financial risk since Netflix will be debuting the film on the same day that it opens at Digital Gym Cinema. That means people can choose to just stay home and watch the film. But Esparza and Van Thillo are both deeply committed to the idea that films need to be shown in a theater as a communal experience to be shared among friends and strangers. So kudos to Digital Gym for being a truly independent cinema for us here in San Diego.

Photo credit: Netflix

Yalitza Aparicio plays Cleo, a maid who also looks after the children of a family in "Roma."

"Roma"

Cuarón returns to Mexico to make his first Spanish language film since his acclaimed "Y Tu Mamá También" in 2001. "Roma" represents not just a return to Mexico but also a return to a more personal narrative than he’s been tackling in his English language films ("Gravity" having been his most recent).

"Roma" looks to the day-to-day life of a family in Mexico City in the early 1970s. Cuarón described the film as: "There are periods in history that scar societies and moments in life that transform us as individuals. Time and space constrain us, but they also define who we are, creating inexplicable bonds with others that flow with us at the same time and through the same places. 'Roma' is an attempt to capture the memory of events that I experienced almost 50 years ago. It is an exploration of Mexico's social hierarchy, where class and ethnicity have been perversely interwoven to this date and, above all, it's an intimate portrait of the women who raised me in a recognition of love as a mystery that transcends space, memory and time."

Cuarón draws heavily on his memories of growing up in the neighborhood of Roma. The two women he pays tribute to are his mother and a family servant who helped raise him. Both women struggle to cope with abandonment while social turmoil flares up outside the home.

Beautifully but unpretentiously shot in black and white, "Roma" holds us rapt with its boundless compassion. Cuarón's personal attachment to the film shines through and makes this film so much more engaging and compelling than "Gravity." Everything unfolds at a casual pace and mostly in wide shots that allow the surrounding environment to be as much a part of the story as the characters. Cuarón has a great eye for detail too. Perhaps my favorite being the large American car that the husband drives and can barely park in the narrow driveway of the family home. The careful maneuvering that must be done to not scrape the sides of the car make the car into a symbol of the husband's ego and position as the head of the family. Then, as relationships change, so too does the car as a kind of lovely commentary. It's those small moments that add up to the wonderful experience of the film.

In directing the movie, Cuarón decided to keep the final script secret from the cast and would only reveal what was to be shot at the beginning of each day. He hoped that this approach would elicit real emotion and surprise from his actors. In addition, he would sometimes give contradictory directions and explanations to cast members, which lean to a certain amount of chaos on the set. Cuarón is quoted on IMDb as saying, "that's exactly what life is like: it's chaotic and you can't really plan how you'll react to a given situation."

The film debuts on Netflix on Dec. 14, the same day it opens at Digital Gym Cinema but I urge you to enjoy it on a big screen and more importantly as part of the communal experience that film – and especially this film — is meant to be.

Photo credit: Lopta Film

Javid (Reza Brojerdi) and Tan (Erkan Acar) appear to be at the mercy of a cursed script in "Snowflake."

"Snowflake"

If you are looking for an escape from holiday cheer then the violent and outrageous German film "Snowflake" might be just the answer.

In Berlin of the near future, two hit men hunt down the murderer of their families. But Javid (Reza Brojerdi) and Tan (Erkan Acar) find themselves at the mercy of a cursed script that appears to be dictating their fate and sending them into a spiral of escalating revenge. So they set out to find the clueless dentist who is writing the screenplay of their lives.

The film takes obviously inspiration from Quentin Tarantino, a director who constantly pays homage to other films. But what most filmmakers fail to realize when they are riffing on Tarantino is that when Tarantino rips off another film he always does so in a manner that makes the end product distinctly his own.

Filmmakers Adolfo J. Kolmerer and William James as well as screenwriter Arend Remmers get that. So the pace, violence, eccentric characters, and crazy plot of "Snowflake" all feel like Tarantino, but the sense of guilt, redemption, and acceptance of responsibility for one’s actions is uniquely that of "Snowflake's" creative team. And if you think that sounds too serious, don’t worry, there’s enough action to make your head spin and some wickedly funny dark comedy to keep you entertained.

"Snowflake" serves up a Molotov cocktail of Tarantino audacity, Coen brothers cleverness, and meta-textual self-awareness. It proves explosive and intoxicating. But perhaps what is most surprising is how much you come to care for the two main characters, and that is the result not only of a good script and direction but of the actors.The film played at this year's Horrible Imaginings Film Festival in Orange County and I was one of the judges on the awards committee that gave the film three awards.

All the judges insisting on giving the two leads, Brojerdi and Acar, the best acting award because the performances were so interwoven that there was no way to separate them. The film delivers some genuine heart and soul underneath its flashy and flippant surface style. It also manages to pack in some social commentary into what ends up being a perverse morality tale.

Because I screened the film as a judge for Horrible Imaginings, I worked to get the film a screening here in San Diego where Horrible Imaginings used to make its home. Film Geeks SD presents the film this Saturday, Dec. 15, only at 10:45 p.m. with a reception starting at 10 p.m. with eggnog, snowflake pastries and an exclusive video with the filmmakers. If you want to make a real night of it, come for "Roma" Saturday at 8:15 p.m. and stay for "Snowflake," and enjoy the intimacy of Digital Gym's micro-cinema and geeky film crowd.

UPDATE: Coronado's Vintage Village Theatres just added "Roma" to one of its screens.

Part 1 - Roma: Digital Gym Cinema will be the only place in San Diego to see Alfonso Cuaron's "Roma" — which just garnered an armload of awards nominations and the crazy German import — "Snowflake."

Part 2 - Snowflake: Digital Gym Cinema will be the only place in San Diego to see Alfonso Cuaron's "Roma" — which just garnered an armload of awards nominations — and the crazy German import "Snowflake."

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