December 18, 2018 – This heartfelt tale of a troubled household in strife-torn Mexico City in 1970-1971 is a powerful drama of love and loss. The title refers to the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City, and the story is related to the life experiences of award-winning director Alfonso Cuarón, who wrote and directed this film.
Although this is primarily a movie about a woman whose husband leaves her, and a woman whose lover abandons her when she becomes pregnant, there are a lot of other things going on in this film, including a near drowning, and The Corpus Christi Massacre in which over 100 student protesters were killed.
The central character in this Spanish Language, black and white film, is Cleo (played by Yalitza Aparicio) a short, sturdily built young maid, who cares for the well-to-do family of Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) a doctor, and his wife, Sofia (Marina de Tavira) who has a biomedical degree, but is a not-so-simple housewife.
As the film opens, Antonio is leaving for a conference in Quebec, but Sofia is clearly worried about him. Her worries are well-founded. He never returns. It appears he has abandoned his wife for a younger woman and has moved out permanently. Sofia hides this fact from her children as long as she can, encouraging them to write letters to their father, urging him to come home.
Eventually, the truth comes out. Sofia tells Cleo that no matter what she has been told, women, sooner or later, are going to be on their own. Cleo has her own problems along the same line. She finds out that she is pregnant. When she tells her boyfriend that he is the father, he promptly abandons her, and later denies that he is the father. Both women have been abandoned, but they are not alone. They have each other, the children, a kindly additional maid, Adela (Nancy García) as well as Sofia's kindly mother, Teresa (Verónica García).
Surprisingly, Sofia seems to have enough money to pay the two maids, keep the house and feed her mother and four young children, despite being abandoned by her husband. The maids and the family draw close to each other, support each other emotionally and circle the wagons as the society around them devolves into violence.
There are many memorable images in the film that stuck with me after the film was over, such as children collecting hail during a storm, a large group of men practicing martial arts with rods in a big, dust-covered field, a strange man, Professor Zovek (based on an actual person, played by wrestler Latin Lover) dressed in spandex, doing a weird, yoga-like stance, a fire in a forest, fought by a bucket brigade while a man in a monster costume sings a song celebrating the new year, a harrowing rescue of children trapped by ocean currents and tall waves, a chaotic riot with cold-blooded murders committed by paramilitary gangs, a terrible still birth scene and a woman's heartbreaking confession about it.
I saw this film as a kind of double feature, right after seeing “The Favourite.” The two films could not be more different. One is filled with rich, entitled dilettantes playing power games, while Roma is full of life and love — ordinary, down to earth people in extraordinary circumstances. Of the two, Roma is clearly better, and deserves to be on any list of the year's best films. This film rates an A.
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