A woman’s work is never done in “Roma,” the Netflix-hosted film nominated for Best Picture and nine other Academy Awards, including Alfonso Cuarón for Best Director, and both female stars for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. Shot in gorgeous black and white and set in 1970, this is a meditative and emotional film that shows deeply personal moments and struggles brushing against a tumultuous social and political background that echoes and informs the upheaval of the family in the center of the story.
Cuarón, who also wrote and shot the film, drew from his own childhood in Mexico City to create this story of four children, their parents and their beloved maid and nanny, Cleo. The last shot of the film features a dedication to his own childhood nanny. What the film concerns, so beautifully and powerfully (and slowly!), the deep complexities of their relationship. Cleo loves and is loved by the four children in her care. But at the end of the day — literally, as she nightly ascends a staircase in the sumptuous apartment to her own narrow quarters, where she is begrudged too much electricity — she is just an employee.
Men don’t come out looking well in “Roma,” and the women constantly pick up the pieces. Like Cuarón’s own father, the patriarch of this family abandons them. At one point, the kids accidentally see him out with another woman and this film does such an uncanny job of presenting how kids experience that kind of thing, as an aside you’ll never be totally sure what really happened. Both Cleo and the family’s mother, Sofia (Marina de Tavira), grapple with abandonment, motherhood, careers and child rearing in vastly different ways. Throughout, their respective experiences are deeply informed by class and race.
Cleo is an indigenous woman from the countryside who works in the affluent household of some white people, and her own womanhood and maternal experiences are subsumed by theirs. Nevertheless, they share and undeniable bond and deep love. It’s very complex and imperfect. This film is subtle, nuanced and, appropriately, ambivalent about the social implications of these arrangements.
First-time actress Yalitza Aparicio is stunning as Cleo; she is tender and loving with the children, and stoically endures her many hardships. Sofia, her employer, rages and despairs over her philandering husband, while Cleo takes a more matter-of-fact approach to trying to contact the valiant gentleman who impregnated her and, upon receiving the news, pretended to go to the bathroom during a movie and simply never returned. Both women’s varied approaches yield the same result, and Sofia expresses what could be the film’s title: “Women are always alone, no matter what.”
While “Roma” is a deeply personal expression of one man’s childhood memories, I responded to it, from today’s climate, as a very affecting way of viewing a woman’s dilemma of work versus motherhood. In a way, these women are two sides of the same coin, sharing the endless work of mothering four kids. These women are torn, as many women feel torn, between their many responsibilities, but what this film so very profoundly explores, in many different, subtle scenes, is the depth of that responsibility, and the anguish of love. They fetch, and comfort, cook and fold, earn a living and make a home, and “Roma” never glosses over their realities. Its beautiful grittiness is a glorious tribute.
“Roma” is streaming on Netflix.
• Get the edge on your office Oscar pool as we approach the Feb. 24 Oscars with the help of the Fairhope Film Festival and its brand-new movie theater venue, in the festival’s headquarters on the corner of Summit Street in Fairhope. “Oscar Nominated Shorts” will be screened Monday, Feb. 18, at 6 p.m. and will cover all three categories — Animated, Live Action and Documentary.
Tickets cost $15 (cash or check only), which includes popcorn and liquid refreshments. Seating is limited so make a reservation by calling 251-990-7957 or email email@example.com. The Fairhope Film Festival Office is at the corner of Summit Street at 122 Fairhope Ave., Suite #1.
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