“Roma”: Alfonso Cuaron’s Tribute to his Homeland and its People
By Daisy Murguia
“Roma” is an emotional and powerful Netflix distributed period drama set in the 1970’s Roma neighbourhood of Mexico City. It is a touching tribute from director Alfonso Cuaron, who received a Golden Globe for Best Director of a Motion Picture for the film, to the Oaxacan caretaker who helped raise him. A strong Oscar contender, the black and white film has already won a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, and has an important cultural impact that transcends the ten Oscar nominations it received.
The film is in Spanish and Mixtec, a true gift to the audience. The beauty in the inclusion of the indigenous Mixtec language is that it creates a level ground for viewers, regardless of being an English or Spanish speaker, you will need to read subtitles at some point. For protagonist Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), speaking Mixtec with the other domestic worker, Adela (Nancy García García), allowed her some of the only forms of privacy that she could have as a domestic worker in a home with four young children. It shows Mexico’s diversity and the untold stories that exist, like Cleo’s, which are not commonly showcased in popular Mexican media since domestic workers are typically only shown as minor, and oftentimes, superficial characters.
“Roma” forms a clear image of the female experience in Mexico during that time which can be best encompassed by a conversation between Cleo and her boss, who says, “We are alone. No matter what they tell you, we women are always alone.” Despite Cleo’s close relationship to her boss Sofia, and her vital role in helping raise Sofia’s children, there are small moments that remind you that although they share similar suffering as women, they live vastly different lives. Cleo is an indigenous, lower-working class woman, she is aware of this, but Sofia makes sure to “put her in her place” any chance she can. There’s one scene that has stuck with me: Cleo is watching television with the whole family, she is stacking plates, then she briefly sits next to the children, finally, she has a moment of rest. However, the rest is short-lived when Sofia then asks her to make tea for her husband, and the spell is broken. Moreover, in another scene, Sofia angrily reprimands Cleo for not picking up the dog feces from the yard and seemingly blames her broken marriage on that. Through all of this, Cleo remains quiet and observant, but their relationship nearing the end of the film is significantly closer, and we see Cleo appreciated, but is that enough? It seems a little too late, but that is exactly what Cuaron wants his audience to see. The youngest boy, who is alleged to be Cuaron in the film, is a rather pesky child who tells Cleo stories about how he was a war pilot, and then a sailor at sea, in his “past life”. We get to see Cleo’s painful experiences, but also how vital she was for the family and how through it all she continued with her duties. Consistently, she continued to pick herself up.
“Roma” is not only emotionally charged, but it is also simple, and aesthetically pleasing. It is the type of movie one wants to visit again and again because you don’t notice things of importance the first time around. The story Cuaron wanted to tell was important, but more than that, the actress Yalitza Aparicio was able to show her talent in her first ever acting role. It is about time that films like Roma exist, but they also deserve Oscar buzz, which the film is receiving, particularly after the recent Globe wins.
There are some critics who believe that Alfonso Cuaron shouldn’t have released the film on Netflix, but they’ve been stepping up the quality of their films and investing in talented directors like Cuaron to show their force as a filming studio. There is nothing inherently wrong with Netflix actively advertising the movie, at least, it seems to only bother people who want to silence films that don’t fit into the typical Hollywood narrative. Out of all the films that have been released in the past year, “Roma” is one of the most deserving, but whether the film wins many Oscars or only a few, it is still setting a precedent for where the film industry can go, and ultimately where it should be going. There are so many moments in the film that are so raw and yet still simple and not overbearing in an exaggerated way that is so popular among drama films. Yalitza Aparicio’s breakthrough acting role paired with Alfonso Cuaron’s directing create a beautiful, delicate, and enticing film that has the ability to change the type of stories that are told in films. If you haven’t seen it, you should, and if you have, watch it again, you might just find a hidden meaning within a scene that you hadn’t noticed before.