'Roma' review: Towering achievement
“Our histories are like twins that mirror each other’s colonial past. We share a collective experience as well as a multitude of stories that encompass oppression, resistance and independence.”
These were Director Alfonso Cuarón’s eloquent observations about the links shared by the Philippines and Mexico during the one-time theatrical screening of Roma, his latest work.
Roma is an experience that doesn’t just allow viewers a glimpse of a foreign culture. It is also an intimate and engaging reflection of how the sins of history can reshape and evolve into a clear and profound portrayal of the vigor of the human spirit.
Roma’s luxurious opening credits, reminiscent of the title cards of classic Hollywood movies, appear superimposed in what seems to be a static image of what in a few minutes would be revealed: the floor of a narrow driveway.
The illusion of stillness is betrayed first by the sound of mopping and cleaning, and later by a splash of water invading the frame. The reflection of the sky wondrously appears and on that reflection, an airplane, which becomes a recurring image in the film, flies by.
Roma is focused on Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), the devoted maid of an upper-middle class Mexican family. It puts the spotlight on a character whose job and ethnicity push her deeper into the margins of society.
When she speaks in her native tongue with another help, her young ward begs that she speak in Spanish. When she visits her former lover about his plans regarding their baby, she gets insulted for being a maid. The film doesn’t sugarcoat the attitudes and prejudices that come with her position in society, yet it also doesn’t glamorize them.
Cuarón presents the events, no matter how mundane or plebeian, as plainly and staunchly as possible, avoiding adorning the requirements of her job with grandiose drama or incredulous plot embellishments. He dignifies Cleo by presenting her not as a tool of some ornate narrative, but as real as possible. He shows Cleo diligently working, failing, dreaming, falling in love with a man, with the children she takes care of, and later on resigning to a fate of being the unsung cornerstone of a family on the brink of collapse.
People in the fringes
Roma becomes that perfectly molded loving tribute to the people in the fringes. It puts their honest and humble labor in the forefront. It makes them pure and beautiful.
Despite its most of its sublime passages happening in households and revolving around familial concerns, Roma is also political in the sense that Cleo and the somewhat well-off family she works for are both by-products and reluctant participants of the political upheavals that shaped and continue to shape their nation.
Perhaps the most obvious sequence where the political landscape has a direct influence over Cleo’s personal sphere is during a student uprising that saw most of her looming crises find their respective closures.
Even more fascinating about Roma is how the scenes that do not overtly involve political situations are still rife with their repercussions. Cuarón, through whispers and anecdotes about ancestral lands being grabbed or overheard statements from her employers showing disdain over foreigners, acknowledges that Cleo’s place in that complex and iniquitous class system is a result of centuries of oppression that have mellowed into what essentially feels like a surrender.
Roma is not explicit about class struggles and can be faulted for almost feeling like a celebration of complacency or misguided resilience of the suffering class. Here, the men are either inadequate and immature, and the women simply survive without them. They do not rebel. They just exist.
However, the film, which stems from Cuarón’s own personal experiences as part of the beneficiaries of that institutionalized inequity, depicts sublime anger and a noble defiance against pervasive injustice.
Cleo’s devastating and enduring presence in a picture so precious and striking is already a splendid statement in itself.
Roma offers a rare glimpse of the glorious tapestry that is Mexico – from the obscured perspective of one of its seemingly insignificant threads. It is undeniably a towering achievement. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas' Tirad Pass.
Since then, he's been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.