A glance in the memories of a little boy

Is it really a film or the nostalgic view of a man in his childhood? The film ROMA draws a lot of attention and seems to divide the viewership between love and disappointment. Surely, the drama has his highlights and his letdowns.

The Oscar winner director, cinematographer, and co-editor of Netflix newest hit Alfonso Cuarón shows us a black and white picture of his childhood in the political riddled Mexico of the 1970 and 1971. But he is not the main character of the film, it is the family maid Cleo who is the focus of the story. The family with four kids, parents and the grandmother live in their secluded home in the Colonial Roma, a district in Mexico City. Cleo, portrayed by the newcomer Yalitza Aparicio, is a humbled woman who tries to navigate her life and fights with the consequences of being pregnant without any support by the father. Yalitza Aparicio had never acted before and Alfonso Cuarón searched over a year until he found in her the best suitable candidate.

Cuarón, who was for the first time cinematographer on his own film, went for a strong visual language in the story. The pictures are kept in black and white and sprinkled with strong symbolic foreshadowing events. It is shot at a slow pace and with wide angles, almost no close-ups and without any film score. The design of the film is simplistic and fits the overall atmosphere. This gives the audience the vibe of witnessing more of a documentary of Cuarón life than a staged film. One can argue that proves that the film is made to perfection because there is no question of its authenticity. Maybe the director just doesn’t want to please anyone than himself, which could also be the reason why the film has been produced and released by Netflix.

In hindsight, it’s a semi-biographical story of Cuarón childhood and the portrayed Cleo was his nanny Lido, whom he dedicated the piece. Cleo belongs to the indigenous people of Mexico and she is limited in her personal development. As a domestic homeworker, she shows deep affection for the children who see her as a part of the family. But the family is in turmoil as the father decides he wants to leave the family to live with another woman. In the end the mother Sofia and Cleo struggle in their roles as left women in a society where social support is rare.

As untypical for nowadays fast edited films, in which a lot is happening to keep the viewer at bay, ROMA does exactly the opposite. It feels like something awful should happen — which it does in the end — but it comes without a loud bang or dramatic gesture. Blows in life happen and we must pick up the pieces of the things which are left back, so as Sofia and Cleo must do it. The mother says to her children and Cleo:

“There will be changes. But we will stay together.”

As much the lives of Sofia and Cleo differ, after all the overlapping similarities between these women help them to form a bond of support.

ROMA earned with his uniqueness a lot of attention and awards; it was nominated for several Oscars this year, even for best picture. It seems to divide the viewership very strongly between two camps of approval and disapproval. You could say the film is controversy, but why exactly? There are its extraordinary style and execution. The film is not only lacking the music, but also the dialogues are cut down to the necessary. There are no longs monologues by individuals, the dialogue supports the action in the scene only. It’s filmmaking in the purest way and this seems to win over the approval and even love from a lot of the viewers. And without any doubts, it is well-crafted film, with a strong symbolical language, well-acted and with a topic which normally would not draw so many people to its screen, but there is one complaint.

The development of characters lacks depth. Cleo stays without any voice in society but also in the plot, she seems to suffer strongly, but never really voice it. Until to the end where she speaks up in tears, but this seems to have not much of substance as the next scene shows her happy and liberated by her sorrows and problems. This issue has also the mother Sofia. She develops from desperation, to rage to inner peace, but that leaves her back as a shallow character still. More interesting would be what happens after the film, how make these two women their lives without men? ROMA can be a loveable film if you like to dive in its story and the way of filmmaking. If not, it’s safe to say that you probably will be disappointed with the film and all its jazz around it.