Roma – a film by Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron has been touted as the year’s best or certainly in the Top 10 lists of 2018 by many film critics. The movie captures a perhaps year long view of an upper-middle class family living in Colonia Roma a very nice neighborhood in Mexico City. The film is autobiographical and is based on Cuaron’s remembrance of the turbulent years during his teens in which his father left the family. But the film focuses primarily on Cleo – one of the family maids and her interaction with Cuaron’s screen family and her own personal struggle. Cuaron communicated extensively with the real life “Cleo” in writing the script. Cuaron’s deep love for “Cleo” is unquestionable after seeing this movie.
Shot in black and white, the movie takes place in 1970-71 and recreates some of the social and political conflicts of the day. The movie starts very slowly and builds up to a climatic scene in which Cleo and the family’s grandmother are caught up in the Corpus Christi Massacre – a shameful event in modern Mexican history. The CCM took place on June 10, 1971. With the support and complicity of the Mexican government (led by Pres. Luis Echeverria) and possibly the CIA, para-military right-wing gangs unleashed an assault on student protesters as they attempted to march to the Zocalo. The Halcones (Hawks) first attacked the protesters with poles which proved to be ineffective. Then out came the guns. As many as 120 students (the youngest being 14) were killed. Some were killed at a hospital where they were seeking treatment after being tracked down and executed by the Halcones.
Roma is a major production (literally with a cast of thousands it would seem) and beautifully captures what life was like on both sides of the street in Mexico City in the early 70’s. But it is the amazing interaction between Cleo and the family that is the focus of the movie. As far as Red sees things it comes down to the complications and contradictions inherent in human relationships – especially a relationship in which you allow someone into your family on a daily level such that your children fall in love with that person and you completely depend on them emotionally and otherwise to make your family life work – but you still can order them to clean up the dog shit in the garage.
Love, death and shit are among the inevitable basics of life. Cuaron deals with all of them here. This is an homage to a woman who essentially raised him and it is beautifully done. It isn’t a great movie from an entertainment standpoint. Red measures great movies by whether you would want to watch them again and he doubts that he would ever watch this one again. It moves too deliberately for most viewers. It’s a serious movie lover’s movie and worth the effort.