“We are alone. No matter what they tell you, we women are always alone.”
I don’t do a lot of research before I watch a film to review – I glimpse over the one-sentence summary on IMDB, but ignore the trailers and other reviews. I don’t want to form any more of an opinion or expectation than I have already from the cast list or director’s name. Knowing Cuarón directed Roma, but not knowing how much it actually was him, didn’t take away from the pleasant pacing and story – but finding out afterwards that he based the entire thing on his family and his memory, including distinct smells and sounds that he remembers from his childhood experience, really adds that extra personality to the film, even more so than his already noticeable auteur trademarks.
Roma is set in 1970s Mexico, focusing on one person in particular – Cleo, the housemaid of a middle-class family. Spanning a little under a year of her life, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) – deals with the issues of being a working-class woman in a place where she is not granted much freedom as she is constantly working. She lives with another maid in the family’s house, separated from the clashing parents and four young children to which the mother (nor the grandmother) seem to act as affectionately towards as much as Cleo does. However, despite the quote to which I opened this review with, uttered from the mouth of the mother Sra. Sofía (Marina de Tavira) after an unfortunate conclusion to her marriage, Roma actually produces an ending that solidifies her place as a female in a maternal household, not just as a maid from a different class. Cleo’s journey is a statement of what it can mean to be a woman, especially in a situation where being a woman is difficult. This is where Cuarón’s voice is spoken most prominently, as Roma is drawn from his childhood memory to frame his experience with the women who raised him.
The slow pacing and quiet integrity of this film definitely stands out as an important feature, as it mirrors Cleo’s story as well making the scenes appear to be taken from the director’s memory. Cuarón chose to use wide panning shots gently sweep across a room as Cleo moves silently about, cleaning up a mess that isn’t hers and going through the same routine again and again, and these camera movements make the audience feel like they really are just glancing into something that is distant in both situation and in time, yet still fully understandable and able to evoke empathy. These movements, coupled with the black and white effect, capture the feeling that Cuarón clearly wanted to convey, as alongside his directorial position he put himself in charge of the script and cinematography. Roma is obviously a creation of distinct and significant memories that are still relevant to present day experiences, and it is pleasing to have something personal be translated onto the screen to all audiences, as it produces an extra layer to your cinematic experience that would otherwise be lacking – though in saying that, even if the character of Cleo was completely removed from real life, just an idea of pure fiction, then Roma would still encapsulate an emotional message about relationships across social hierarchys in 1970s Mexico.
This film is more than just a story of the issues minority people face, it is also a story about the impressions they can leave and the impact they can have on someone – not necessarily negative or positive but an impact all the same. It isn’t necessary to know Cuarón’s reasoning behind the creation of Roma, but you can still understand his personal vision; through his choice to tell the story in black and white with his favoured long takes and panning wide shots, which in turn encapsulates the concept of the imprint human being’s leave behind, the audience is warmly invited to watch something representing an important part of someone’s life.
Note: For some reason I found it difficult to grip onto words that accurately expressed how I felt about this film, so although I fully recommend Roma, I understand if this review seemed a little lackluster.