Movie review: An introspective feminist analysis of the movie Roma, a 2018 Spanish-language drama film written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón
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Multi-award winning film Roma is semiautobiographical in nature as it draws direct inspiration from the director, producer and writer, Alfonso Cuaron’s childhood. The movie revolves around Cleo (based on Cuaron’s real life nanny, Lebo) who is one of the two domestic workers serving an upper middle class family with four children in the backdrop of the political cataclysm that occurred in the vicinity of Roma, Mexico City in the 1970s.
Roma captures the concerns of class-based discrimination and the struggles associated with it in visually breathtaking black, white and slow panned camerawork. The contrast depicted between the two female protagonists – Cleo and Mrs. Sofia – drives the narrative onward. Cleo becomes very much a part of the family she works for but still feels the boundaries of social standings gravitating her down. Mrs Sofia can often be seen projecting her wrath and frustrations upon a helpless and patient Cleo. This is evident in the scenes where Cleo gets chastised when Dr. Antonio steps on dog poop and when the eldest child eavesdrops into Mrs. Sofia’s conversation. She is also not included in household affairs and dinner table conversations and is left trying to fill in the gaps of what is going on around her.
But this is just one facet of the social fabric and human complexities portrayed by the characters. Cleo isn’t relegated to just taking care of the family. The relationships she forms with each member of the family is also symbiotic and whole. Even though Mrs. Sofia has her own shortcomings, she confronts her own prejudices to bridge the gap between their class inequalities as she treats Cleo foremost as a human and a fellow woman. She covers all the bills through the course of Cleo’s pregnancy with utmost sincerity.
The part where Dr. Antonio offers Cleo emotional support in the hospital even after leaving his family also further reaffirms her value and importance to every member of the family.
The powerful dialogue, “No matter what they tell you, we women are always alone.” , rendered by a drunk and blue Mrs Sofia strikes a hundred different chords about the reality of the world women live in. Roma is a tale of sacrifices and strength shown by two women of different social standings, living interconnected lives and facing all the struggles thrown their way. The movie also addresses the dissimilarity in the degree of hardships faced by upper-middle class families and domestic workers.
Roma is a tale of sacrifices and strength shown by two women of different social standings, living interconnected lives and facing all the struggles thrown their way.
While Mrs. Sofia’s falling out of her flimsy marriage is cushioned by her relatives and her pride, Cleo’s unplanned pregnancy forces her to wake up to the pressures alone. She wasn’t allowed a choice to exercise autonomy over her own body and her baby with everyone else making her decisions for her. Domestic workers like Cleo usually hold on to stoic facades and push through sufferings unaided, without support groups or familial support. They face abuse and mistreatment in their professional and personal lives, especially relationships. There is an obvious dose of male chauvinism embodied by men like Fermin who parade around their masculinity but run at the first glimpse of troubles.
There is no dearth of heartbreaking moments in Roma. Cuaron boldly presents the delivery of Cleo’s stillborn child in the most gut wrenching and honest way possible. The unaccelerated long shots also stunningly render justice to the reality of the circumstances. The bond between the children and Cleo is another heartwarming aspect and is extremely satisfying to see unfold. She is portrayed as a second mother figure to them. Her protectiveness of them reaches its zenith as she instinctively jumps into high waves after them despite her inability to swim.
The shot of the whole family hugging each other on the beach after the almost drowning experience conveys the soul of the story for me. It is everyone Cleo cares about in one single frame surrounding her and making her feel at home and loved after having lost a child and almost losing two others. She holds on to a tangible silver of hope in the form of the children and Mrs. Sofia as she discovers the bliss of being accepted and loved for possibly the first time.
Roma is a voice to millions of domestic workers around the world. It shows a different perspective and side to the rendition seen in most other films which victimize and erase identities of domestic workers and tick every stereotypical checkbox made. It takes a refreshing approach in its attempt to humanize and deliver an authentic and faithful representation of domestic workers. Every scene is a perfect symphony of cathartic moments and is sure to pull hard at your heartstrings. It is positively one of a kind and the best movie of its genre for me.
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