Alfonso Cuarón directs Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira and Diego Cortina Autrey in this love letter to the director’s childhood maid and nanny.
Poor old Cleo has a tough time of it in 1970s Mexico. She endures Kung Fu love rats, real tragedy and stifled depression while spoilt kids buzz around her, her employers go through relationship woes and Mexico faces escalating civil unrest. These threads jut into her life in unexpected ways. Meanwhile she stoically soldiers on, marching into waves she is unprepared for, waves bigger than her deceptively small stature should be able to navigate. Cuarón’s opus is a visual marvel, keeping the family she loves in the details-free midshot, keeping her deeply touching trials and tribulations in cold, matter of fact monochrome. As a watcher, it is hard to say if this a celebration of subservience or an apology for the pressures rich people put on those who wait on them hand and foot? The unevenness of the emotional attachment that comes with raising others’ children? That unintentional ambiguity robs Roma slightly of its strength. You love Cleo long before the end of this film but you could hardly say the woman we grow so near to is allowed a complex representation of herself as a human being. She is shown as a mere martyr who must endure purely, rather than a human with weakness as well as strength. Cuarón can still only view this person as a voiceless saint, with no thoughts of her own nor autonomy of spirit. That’s troubling and distasteful. But I may have misread a very well made work of art. It is a film that made me feel; affection for its lead and distrust in its auteur.