I can feel, touch and taste Alfanso Cuarón’s Roma. I can feel the kids playing. I can feel the emotional strain of political and economic instability. I can feel the struggle of giving birth. I can feel babies dying. I can feel the struggles of a single mom and her kids being left behind by their father.
I can feel the delicate balance between tragedy and love. All this is made possible through black and white film that allows for raw authenticity, perfectly centered shots, gorgeous landscapes and natural acting.
Never before has a film portrayed the human experience in such a rich and profound way. In this film, Cuarón reflects on his childhood experience’s in a cozy and reflective love letter to his country and cinema. In fact, the film is dedicated to his childhood maid, Cleo.
Cuarón tells his story in a way that will cross cultural barriers — Cuarón has united us with the language of cinema — he has used his visual craft to help us understand the suffering of others and to promote cross cultural human empathy. Roma could not have come at a better time.
Our current conversations about the migrant caravan and immigration in the age of Trump require all too view this film. Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson has recently suggested that immigrant’s make the U.S dirtier and poorer — if he sees Roma — he may change his mind if he has any intelligence or heart. We have a moral obligation to attempt bring in the most unlucky people in the world — and that is people like Cleo.
Roma is a tight-knit practice in filmmaking — every shot is in its place — perfectly centered and framed. Every sound adds emotional depth to the story. In the film, Cuarón critiques Mexican class divisions in subtle ways. Cleo, the maid, has slight economic opportunities and is treated like the household dog.
The oppression and suffering in this film are complex, intersectional and multi dimensional. For instance, Cleo and her employer Sofia both feel the wrath of misogyny. Cleo, on one hand, is left to care for a baby on her own and is threatened by the father of the baby, Paco — while Sofia is cheated on by her husband and is left to care for her children without any support.
Cleo and Sofia become one with their struggle. No one has a monopoly on suffering in this film — Cleo and Sofia are both suffering due to selfish men regardless off socio-economic status. The kids are suffering without their father as well.
This dynamic paves the way for the most tender and intimate moments in the film — which is the bond between Cleo and the kids. These relationships are complemented by beautiful landscapes. However, don’t let this dynamic foul you.
Cleo is still the subject of petty middle class oppression of the poorer classes in Mexico — she can never truly escape her role as an unequal in the family. Cuarón knows this and puts us in her shoes — and at the end of her long journey — she is not liberated economically by this family.
Despite all the life changing events that the family has been through with Cleo — she will always remain the poor maid. Cuarón is showing us that this is preciously how these oppressive class struggles work.
Cleo is very much on her own in this film. She lets the tragedy that is life hit her helplessly as she navigates the water’s of income inequality, oppression and misogyny. Perhaps the scene of the waves hitting her as she almost drowns is subliminal symbolism of the world attacking her from all sides — and she barely stays a float.
And that is Cuarón’s genius — he uses subtle symbolism that provides accurate commentary on the political and economic conditions in 1970s Mexico. For instance, during bourgeois parties, the Maid’s sit together to avoid the condescension and pretentiousness that the Mexican bourgeois bring.
At this party, we see bourgeoisie Americans shooting guns in a Mexican forest — which is brief commentary about U.S Economic and Political involvement in Latin America. Cuarón contrasts slums with the rich and lavish life styles of the upper middle class.
The instability and tension through out the film is a reflection of Cuarón’s own experiences in the political turbulent climate of Mexico in the 1970’s. Cuarón’s approach is that of no narrative — his style is intimate, objective and tender — and he doesn’t try to pull your heart strings, it all happens naturally. These are the films I live for. I don’t like films to be manufactured and structured — I want authenticity.
I felt a range of emotions while watching this film. I felt love, empathy, melancholy, nostalgia, and anger. It may very well be the case that Cleo is the most I ever empathized with a character in the years I have been watching films.
Only an auteur like Cuarón can craft a spectacle like this one. Just look at the aesthetic and visual prowess of when the house and plane shine in the reflection of the water that Cleo cleans the floor with.
Look at the tragedy of life in the scenes of the forest fire, the protest, the earthquake, and the baby’s birth. Roma shows us life itself, its tragedies, its inequalities, and its tenderness. Perhaps the only way to overcome the hardships of life is with the love Cleo brings.