By Afra Nariman
Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron
Stars: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Jorge Antonio Guerrero
Set in 1970’s Mexico City; the story of Cleo, a domestic worker who helps Sofia and Antonio take care of their four children. After Antonio leaves with his mistress, and Cleo finds out that she’s pregnant; the lives of both Cleo and Sofia become complicated and the two women are tested. Cleo and the family bond further when they go on vacation together, which allows everyone to clear their minds and find their peace.
Filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron reached far into his memories to create a film that he says is inspired by the great women in his life. The result is incredible. Roma is an artistically vibrant film that is told at the perfect pace. From the very beginning, the film starts off with a slow shot of water pouring over a stone driveway, in intervals that resemble the ocean’s tide. In practically every single scene, there is a sense of the intimate, the mesmerizing and the beautifully powerful. The first real scene is filmed from a centered position in the middle of the home that follows Cleo as she begins her daily routine of cleaning the home. Through this intimate camera work, we immediately get a sense of the home’s layout and the setting of the film, while feeling as if we are there. Cleo’s frequent singing is also a thematic element that adds to the dream-like, memory-like ambiance of the film.
Although Roma is built like a series of eventful memories; it is told in an incredibly detailed and captivating fashion. The artistic elements of the film: how its black & white, the camera shots, the beautiful images and scenery, Cleo’s singing, and its pace, all make for an unbelievably mesmerizing piece of cinematic art. It has a certain aura around each scene that is completely hypnotizing. Although the film can seem slow to some people, if you completely invest in Cleo’s story and the story of the other characters, and really submit to the film’s artistic elements; there is truly no other film like Roma.
The film is a heartbreakingly intimate look into the life of Cleo and the family she works for. It tells many stories. It tells the story of Mexico’s politics in the 1970s, the story of a domestic worker, the story of family, but most of all the overarching story is the story of humanity, which is told through a combination of all the others. The film feels like an orchestral performance; slowly rising in intensity, volume and emotion as Cuaron conducts all the way through. There are segments of slow, beautiful and heartwarming scenes, that serve as stepping stones to the inevitable crescendos that are the numerous emotional peaks of the film; each of which are louder and more emotionally dense than its predecessor.
Early in the film, we get the sense of how much Cleo is loved by the family she works for; a family that at the beginning seems extremely happy and put together. It doesn’t take long until things begin to fall apart. Antonio (the father of the family) runs away with his mistress, leaving Sofia to care for their four children. Practically simultaneously, Cleo learns that she is pregnant with the child of her friend’s boyfriend’s cousin, who ghosts her as soon as he finds out. Both women are left alone to a different period of motherhood. At one point in the film, Sofia says to Cleo:
This signifies a position that Cuaron is taking in bringing to light the selfish and irresponsible nature of many men; at least in his own life, since this film is inspired by his memories. As the effects of Sofia and Cleo’s predicaments escalate, the film begins to intensify. Cleo accompanies Sofia and the kids to a family holiday party in the country. Shortly upon returning home, Cleo goes into unexpected labor and mournfully loses her baby at birth. Understandably feeling broken and lost, Cleo goes into a deep depression. To help pull her out of the pit of sadness she had entered, Sofia invites Cleo to join the family on a beach vacation. Cleo and the family’s bond grow on their trip; especially when Cleo saves two of the children from drowning. In an emotional moment where Cleo, Sofia and the four kids embrace each other, hugging and crying (as shown in the picture on the top of this page); Cleo admits to Sofia that she didn’t want her child. This moment, for all involved, was an emotional outburst of all the pain and struggle they’ve all had to endure.
Roma is an unbelievably complete story that outlines the political, emotional, social and humanitarian constructs of society and of life, that is often times unfair. It is a display of incredibly patient filmmaking on the part of Alfonso Cuaron. The film sets us in a completely different time, culture and place, and takes control of our attention and our emotions for the better part of about 2 hours and 15 minutes. The intimate and beautiful setting of 1970s Mexico city makes watching this film seem like watching the memories of a world depicted through poetry and art. Roma is powerfully emotional. It touches your heart and your spirit as a member of humanity. It is one of the most authentic, genuine, humane and important films you’ll watch. Roma is one of those films that come around somewhat infrequently, that truly matter, both in story and in art. This film is a masterpiece of technique and emotional expression, and a milestone in the art of storytelling all together.