“Roma is an attempt to capture the memory of events that I experienced almost fifty 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.”
The pace of the engrossing, black and white film “Roma” is established during the opening scene, and may test some viewers patience. In the scene, the film’s credits are shown, superimposed above soapy water that is being used to wash a stone driveway. The scene lasts approximately four minutes. “Roma” takes place between the years 1970 and 1971, and centers, in part, around a financially secure Mexican family who live in a house in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. The family consists of: Sr. Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), who is a doctor; his wife Sra. Sofia (Marina de Tavira); their four children Tono (Diego Cortina Autrey); Paco (Carlos Peralta); Pepe (Marco Graf); Sofi (Daniela Demesa). Sra. Sofia’s mother, Sra. Teresa (Verónica García) lives with them as well. Additionally, there is Adela (Nancy García García) who works as a domestic for the family. The prime focus of the film, however, concerns itself with a year in the life of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio).
Cleo is a hardworking, indigenous, maid, who in many respects, is the backbone of the family. She is a tireless worker, who keeps the house in order. She performs a variety of tasks for them – including everything from cleaning up after the family and the family dog, to serving meals. Her greatest attribute, however, is the attention and time she devotes to the children. Cleo treats them, seemingly, as if they were her own. For example, she helps to wake and dress the younger children in the morning, and furthermore, takes all four children to school, and picks them up again in the afternoon. (As an aside: Cleo’s character was inspired by Liboria “Libo” Rodríguez, a woman who helped to raise Cuarón as a child. She has appeared in cameos in two Cuarón films’ “Sólo con tu pareja” and “Y Tu Mamá También“).
Within the first half hour of the film, Sr. Antonio is departing on a business trip to Quebec, Canada. What sort of business the doctor has abroad is not discussed. Sra. Sofia is agitated about his leaving; her actions imply, that she feels that Sr. Antonio will not be returning to his family. Sra. Sofia’s instincts are right. The reasoning behind Sr. Antonio’s departure, and the direct impact it will have on his family’s future, will be revealed to the viewer later on in the film.
Cleo gets the occasional day off, and more often than not, spends time with her boyfriend, the martial arts obsessed, Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero). As time passes, one day they opt not to go to the movies, and instead, they rent a hotel room. A bit later on in the film, Cleo learns she is pregnant. When Cleo tells Fermin, at the movie theater, that he is going to be a father, he acts as if it is wonderful news. In addition, he promises to stick by her side. Fermin’s promise is worthless; within seconds, he excuses himself from the movie, claiming he needs to use the restroom, and does not return. Cleo, hoping against hope, waits for him long after the film is over, but from all outward indicators, he has seemingly left Cleo, on her own, to raise the baby. While Cleo initially wants Fermin to be in her life, she is afraid of how Sra. Sofia will react to the news that she is pregnant. She is worried, that as much as she is sometimes treated as a member of the family, and even though she is loved by the children, that there exists the very real possibility that she will be fired.
Particular events, such as the aforementioned, help to comprise the whole of “Roma.” The film doesn’t follow exact plot points from start to finish, but is more of an episodic study of the events that take place, especially in Cleo’s life and the life of the family. The entire movie is set against the backdrop of the political turmoil that was taking place in Mexico in the early 1970s. In particular, the film focuses on the 1971 Corpus Christi Massacre, which took place on June 10, 1971. The massacre was carried out against student demonstrators, who were angered at the government’s interference with the University of Nuevo Leon. The exact number of protesters that were killed by the Halcones (The Falcons), young men who were in favor of Mexico’s ruling party and then Mexican President, Luis Echeverría Álvarez, who served from 1970 to 1976, has never been confirmed. The number is believed to be upwards of 120 people that lost their lives.
Written and directed by Oscar winner Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma” marks his first film since “Gravity” (2013). The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in Italy on August 30, 2018. During the film’s 135 minute runtime, both Spanish and the indigenous dialect of Mixtec are spoken. Could another Oscar be in Cuarón’s future? He just won the Golden Globe for Best Director, and “Roma” won for Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language, at the Golden Globe Awards Ceremony that aired on NBC (National Broadcasting Company) on Sunday, January 6, 2019. The cast, as a whole, are excellent, especially Aparicio, who makes her film debut. “Roma” is currently available to stream on Netflix.