RKS Retro Film: “Roma”: A Mexican American Film That Explores Societal and Relationship Devastation

The 2018 Mexican American film “Roma” received 10 Oscar nominations for the 91st Academy Awards and won three including Best Foreign Film (Mexico’s first Best Foreign Film win). Alfonso Cuarón won for Best Director.

The film, shot in black and white so beautifully, can be seen as a study of near devastation of human relationships and of 1971-72 Mexican society.

I had not seen the film so when I saw the title of “Roma” I thought it might be about Rome or perhaps about the “Roma” people but instead most of the film was shot in the Colonia Roma neighbourhood in Mexico City. Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and her husband Dr. Antonio live with their children in a modest neighbourhood with three servants that work day and night cleaning up dog shit, doing laundry, cooking, serving food, minding dogs and children, driving and a never-ending series of chores. The children love Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) the indigenous domestic and she is very good with them. Is this a Mexican “Upstairs Downstairs”?

Life seems to power on in harmony except for husband and father Dr. Antonio who is off to Montreal on a research project from which he never returns. Actually he is diddling around with a mistress of which Sofia is well aware of but she protects the children by lying to them that he has his research project extended in Montreal. Meanwhile Cleo is diddling around with Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero)e a self-proclaimed wreck of a man supposedly saved by his addiction to martial arts.

At this point there is domestic and societal harmony until Cleo confesses to Sofia she is three months late and lo and behold she is pregnant. While Sofia is willing to stand by her Fermin is nothing but a vermin towards her. That rejectiion scene is shot in some ragged barrios in a poetic and vivid fashion.

In the meantime, there are hints of social unrest with violence attendant to land expropriations. At a student demonstration Mexican police open fire on demonstrators killing and maiming many while Cleo and Sofia’s mother are at a furniture store buying a crib. A paramilitary gang, Los Halcones, breaks into the furniture store shooting patrons and Fermin is one of the thugs. Cleo breaks water and a rather gut-wrenching scene follows at the hospital.

Sofia takes the children to a Tuxpan seaside” vacation” and Cleo saves two of Sofia’s children from drowning as they get dragged out by the tide.

The children are informed by Sofia that Dr. Antonio is not coming home and a viewer must be rock bottom at this point. But as the family returns home from the Tuxpan vacation and Cleo takes the laundry for cleaning life is back to “normal”. Marina de Tavira won the Oscar as Best Supporting Actress.

The film is still vibrant and resonating despite its 4 years of age.

You can see the trailer here https://www.criterion.com/films/30124-roma

I saw this on Netflix.

RKS Retro Film Rating 94/100.

Published by Robert K Stephen (CSW)

Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden and the University of Toronto. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he has established this publication. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."

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