Roma: A Mexican Film About Memory And Resilience

Filed in Film by on December 18, 2018 0 Comments

Alfonso Cuaron’s stark and absorbing black-and-white neo-realistic Mexican movie, Roma, unfolds as languidly as a steamy night in the tropics. Semi-autobiographical and filmed in quasi-documentary style, it’s set in the upscale but slightly scruffy Roma district of Mexico City in the early 1970s and focuses on the tribulations of a middle-class family and one of its housekeepers.

Now available on the Netflix streaming network, Roma occasionally works in real time, as the first arresting scene indicates. Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), the family’s maid, methodically goes about the business of mopping the floor of a narrow indoor garage. Rivulets of soapy water build up as she mops, creating a symphony of soft, sloshing, soothing sounds.

The garage leads into a tidy two-storey cottage where Sofia (Marina de Tavira), her husband, their brood of vocal children and her mother live in what passes for bourgeois comfort in Mexico.

Yalitza Aparicio

Sofia, a biochemist, is a stay-at-home mom who tends to their needs. Cleo, a quiet and impassive young woman with strong Mayan features, assists her. In addition to keeping the house clean, she has a long list of chores to perform — taking care of a frisky dog that constantly leaves excrement in the garage, helping in the kitchen, doing the laundry, and picking up one of Sofia’s boys from school.

Alfonso Cuaron

Her private life revolves around her newly acquired lover, Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), a martial arts fanatic who’s fond of extravagantly demonstrating his skills to her in the nude. Sitting with him in a movie theater, she informs Fermin that she’s pregnant. He seems pleased with the news, but in reality, it hits him like a tsunami. Briskly excusing himself, he disappears into the night like a common thief.

In desperation, Cleo confronts Fermin as best she can. A cad to the core, he refuses to accept responsibility and proceeds to insult Cleo. She takes it all in solemnly, declining to respond to his appalling behavior.

Back in Roma, Sofia discovers that Antonio, her seemingly devoted husband, has been unfaithful. Rather than having gone to Quebec for a medical conference, he has been vacationing in Acapulco with his mistress. The revelation produces a rift in their relationship, which on the surface appeared to be mutually loving and supportive.

Amid the turbulence, university students in Mexico City take to the streets in demonstrations, which are violently broken up by the police and the army, causing untold casualties and widespread grief. Much to her distress, Sofia’s mother watches the horrific events from the bay window of a department store.

A dramatic moment in Roma

In one of the most dramatic scenes, Cleo and Sofia’s children spend some time at a beach. What happens next transforms Cleo into a heroine in their eyes. By this juncture, she’s a valued and integral member of this broken family. Aparicio, in an astonishingly naturalistic performance, portrays Cleo.

Roma, an evocative and expertly-crafted film about childhood memory, disappointment, hope and resilience, grows on you and lingers in your mind.

 

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