A black and white Mexican film has us watching a young domestic worker flow through life’s joys and travails as it slows us down to consider the lives of others. In doing so, “Roma” forces us to see how the sun’s eternal warmth and the cool betrayal of circumstance mesh. This is life.
Our protagonist could be from any of the decades between 1920 to 1990. “Roma” seems timeless. The cleaning up ~daily chores like laundry, dishes, the caring for children and dogs~ almost ageless until those classic cars have us zeroing in on the 1970’s. Radio and tv and the movies are present. There is sex, amusement parks, and the beach to entertain. One notices the absence of cell phones.
We begin with the sound of sloshing water. Someone is mopping a tiled floor. Fourteen buckets of rinse water are thrown down as our title surfaces. In the pooling water, an airplane is reflected from the sky. We think of lives being passed over, the underlings below. It is a great opening. Life is going to be lived, but rinsed to the essentials.
Director Alfonso Cuarón, 57, wrote and directed “Roma”.
It is semi-autobiographical, and follows the footsteps of a domestic worker, Cleo ( newcomer Yalitza Aparicio). A family portrait emerges. Ms.Sofia; her husband, Dr. Antonio; and grandma Teresa are seen at meals with the four children, Paco, Pepe, Toño,and Sofi. There is a bird, a dog, named Borras. Cleo and the young cook, Adela, live over the garage.
We soon realize that Cleo is holding the family together. The father has another romantic interest in Quebec and will not return. Sofia is a tad unhinged. The tender moments are when Cleo sings a child to sleep, plays in an imaginary game, and warmly hugs the child who asks if she has always been with them. The film is in celebration of this kind of unconditional love.
Cuaron does his own cinematography. He is unhurried.
The camera lingers. We feel the waves as Cleo, who doesn’t swim, marches through the surf to save floundering children. We see Cleo’s dead baby being meticulously wrapped for burial as if we were swaddling the infant ourselves. The martial art scenes, the earthquake, the forest fire, the holiday party, the revolutionary street foment are captured. If we watch the trailer again, we are surprised by how much has gone on.
One of my favorite scenes is at Don Jose’s ranch, where a wall of past family dog heads deck a wall. Cleo stares at this memorial and a live dog, Borras, licks her hand. ”You are mine, and I am happy for your being.” he seems to say. Director Cuaron lets us know he feels the same. Class hierarchy be damned.