The movie “Roma” is written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón who last directed the great 2013 movie “Gravity”. Roma could not be more different than Gravity. There are no special effects, the entire film is shot in black and white, something I have not seen in many years and this is a foreign language film with subtitles. The story is very minimal centering on the bleak life of a maid named Cleo who lives in Mexico City in the early 70’s and works for an upper middle class family. Cleo is the name of a common house cat and Cleo’s personality throughout this entire story seems as if she is a house cat herself, due to so many years of being beaten down for being born poor in the exact wrong place and time. Over the years, she just has no choice to accept her life as it is. The reality for so many millions like Cleo is, there is no where to go, no where to hide; you do what you have to do to survive.
Cleo becomes pregnant by her lowlife boyfriend, who once he finds out she is pregnant just abandons her at a movie theater and later disrespects her in public even threatening her with violence. Cleo just takes the non stop abuse with no emotion, as if being treated badly by everyone is her lot in life, her birthright. Much of this is difficult to watch because Cleo, played by a first time actress Yalitza Aparicio is so likable. She is beloved by the family she works for and their four children. She is constantly cleaning a hallway where the family dog defecates and this hallway/car garage is shown and cleaned so often in this movie it is even part of the opening montage. There is a deep message within this garage hallway where the family car can barely fit into and my personal understanding of this symbolism is that it the hallway represents the depressing confined life of so many millions of poor hard working people in the world.
There are several scenes in this film, showing the 1971 Corpus Christi Massacre in the middle of this story that enhances the bleak and dangerous reality of Cleo and all the people in her life. There are some violent scenes of murder and shootings that for some may be difficult to watch.
The visuals and symbolism throughout this film are many, enhanced by the high quality black and white film making. I was most impressed by the ending where Cleo is seen climbing a dangerous looking outdoor flight of stairs carrying laundry realizing that she has made this trip so many times in the past. This is her depressing life day after day, a family maid, climbing stairs over and over, making dinner, cleaning the garage, cleaning the house, accepting her life of being poor with no hope of anything better.
All of the reviews for this movie are outstanding, with accolades for the director Alfonso Cuarón, who has taken 5 years to make this movie after Gravity, which is a tribute to how much time he took to write and direct what many are considering to be a masterpiece of film making. This movie will most likely be in the list of 10 movies nominated for best picture this year, and should definitely win the best foreign language film of 2018. Roma represents a high level of film making as an art form, even though the story is very minimal but the underlying messages, visuals and symbolism are of a quality I have never seen before. Roma is Cuarón’s gift to the harsh life reality of millions of poor people in the world and I give it my highest recommendation.