“Roma,” the new Netflix film which opened in theaters in order to qualify for Oscar, will be available via the online streaming service beginning today. The film already has begun gathering awards and nominations from prestigious film critic organizations across the country, including the Chicago Film Critics Association.
This artistic masterpiece has found an unusual storytelling method to create an homage to the women in writer/director Alfonso Cuaron’s (“Gravity”) life as a child: his mother, his grandmother and his housekeeper.
“Roma” takes us back to Cuaron’s childhood in Mexico City during the 1970s to tell this very intimate memoir as we meet his family during a time of personal and political chaos.
During the course of one year, we watch, like a fly on the wall, Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and Antonio’s (Fernando Grediaga) marriage unravel, the children’s lives affected in various ways, but most importantly, the life of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) and how this impacts and creates unexpected bonds.
Like great literature, this film is filled with symbolism which may not initially be evident. But like an everlasting book, this film will be a topic of study for years to come as students and cinephiles alike will dissect each aspect of this story. The opening scene is mesmerizing as we zoom in to a tile floor, listening to the swishing of a mop and observing a plane high in the sky flying overhead reflected in the puddle. This vantage point, both so close as to not see what’s happening as well as so far overhead that we see it all, coexist harmoniously.
The plane appears to be symbolic of the position of Cleo in the family, first seen as a mere servant, there to perform her duties, but her loving nature and obvious connection with all of the children is evident, as the family accepts her because of circumstances to come. The ever-present plane is seen from a different viewpoint as Cleo’s position changes. It’s this type of symbolism that pushes the viewer to greater intellectual depth in appreciating the film.
On the surface, we find Sofia struggling to hang on to her marriage, knowing in her gut she has lost her husband to another woman. Her desperation is heart-wrenching, and Cleo and Adela (Nancy Garcia Garcia) attempt to carry on with cooking, cleaning and caring for the children. The story departs from the home to follow Cleo and Adela as they enjoy a date night with newfound loves.
Cleo soon finds herself in a precarious situation to which she must find help from Sofia and the matriarch of the family, Senora Teresa (Veronica Garcia). This is the turning point for all of the women, which parallels the climax of our witnessing the Corpus Christi Massacre, all from a very personal position in the film.
The story, sometimes dreamlike and inexplicable, uses long, sweeping black and white shots to draw you into each scene. As the story unfolds, care is taken to always see things as if a child is watching from a seat in the corner. We are there witnessing every emotion and every action, sometimes with the camera not allowing us to see everything, but only to hear it first, and we are magnetically pulled to the situation that awaits.
Sound is as much of a part of the story as the characters themselves. The chaos of the street vendors, the honks of the car horns, the screaming of the children, the din of the television and the clanking of the dishes; this is the “musical” score. It is this attention to sound that opens yet another door into the world of 1970s Mexico City.
While sight and sound are integral to this film, the cast, an unusual group comprised of seasoned actors (such as de Tavira) to novices who never acted before (Aparicio) and all who never saw a completed script prior to or during the film, develop a genuine connection with one another to elevate our experience in watching the events unfold over that one year.
Remembering that this is an homage to the women in Cuaron’s life, all of these women grow in their independence as they find support from one another. De Tavira’s performance as a mother, wife and daughter, is remarkable, especially as her character, without hesitation helps young Cleo. And while her heart is breaking, she must find strength and determination to support her children, guide Cleo and be resilient in her own life; de Tavira’s portrayal is realistic, connecting us with her as we find empathy and sympathy for her situation.
Aparicio’s performance is flawless in depicting a young woman in a low position in life and reacting to the cards she has been dealt. It’s a sublime portrayal of utmost authenticity that creates a bond between her and the viewer. Garcia is a stoic woman who we only later understand as her guarded demeanor is eventually dismantled, and, together, these three women catapult the film to a higher level.
“Roma” is a uniquely artistic film demonstrating the power of women through the memory of a child while the class system in society and political unrest underlies and even parallels the narrative arc. It’s visually and auditorily captivating, pushing your emotional understanding to its limits. The film stays with you long after the credits roll, and upon a second viewing, you begin to understand it more fully.
It’s a beautifully engaging story of love, family and strength through lifting one another.