Looking Backward

Stars: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Fernando Grediaga, Daniela Demesa, Jorge Antonio Guerrero, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta, Nancy Garcia and Veronica Garcia
Director/Scriptwriter/Cinematographer/Editor: Alfonso Cuaron
Participant Media/Netflix
Running length: 120 minutes
Rating: R for violence and themed material
Spanish language---subtitles 

It is unusual in today’s cinema to produce a black and white film.  However, Alfonso Cuaron’s film, “Roma,” details the life of a live-in maid, the family she works for, and living conditions in Mexico City in the 1970’s.  The colorful atmosphere in parts of the city and surrounding countryside can be imagined, so what the audience sees is the reality of life there, in peaceful times and times of rioting in the streets.  In the 1970’s, a black and white camera was the norm for photographs, and this is what you see as the director takes you backward in time. “Roma” refers to a suburb of Mexico City.  

We follow the daily life of Cleo, who is one of the maids to the family of the husband, Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), wife Sofia (Marina de Tavira), their children, Pepe (Marco Graf), Sofi (Daniela Demesa), Paco (Carlos Peraita) and Tono (Diego Cortina Autrey) and the grandmother, Teresa (Veronica Garcia). Cleo’s friend is another maid, Adela (Nancy Garcia) and on their time off, they go to the cinema. Life consists of making meals, taking the children to and from school, cleaning the house and especially the patio where the dog usually is. The maids have their own rooms in another section of the townhouse in an upper middle-class neighborhood.  As time goes on, we see that the marriage between Sofia and Antonio is breaking up, and that Cleo and Adela’s boyfriends turn out to be cads. When there is a pregnancy, the family pulls together to help and it is at this time, that Antonio leaves permanently, Sofia is left to manage whatever finances are left, find a job for herself and just get by in their townhouse while the rest of Mexico City is rioting. What to do? 

There is sadness and some humor in “Roma.” Comments contained in the subtitles can be sharp, and this gives a breather to the situations that are developing before you.  Clothes are hung on the roof tops to dry, hand scrub the floors at times, watch the parking of a showy Ford Galaxy car into a smaller garage, and visits to the beach that are both fun and harrowing. We find out that little education is a hindrance to the young girls and that landing a job as a maid can be a coveted position as it brings one in contact with parties and the upper class. A far cry from their country life.  

Director Alfonso Cuaron put together “Roma” in remembrance of the family maid in his family.  Parents were involved in their own careers and left the raising of the children to the maids, who comforted in times of need when the parents were gone---which could be frequent. Yalitza Aparicio’s portrayal of Cleo is stoic, naïve and sad. She has no one to turn to and, no matter the circumstance, will always end up being the maid.  Jorge Antonio Guerrero (Fermin) who is Cleo’s boyfriend, shows how he can attract the girls and let them down at the same time. It means nothing to him.  The quiet balance in the house is Teresa (Veronica Garcia) as the grandmother, who acts as a mediator at times, Everyone must pull together when the father leaves for good as he was barely there, anyway.   “Roma” is a view of life that existed in Mexico City in the 1970’s before much of the technology of today and how families kept together with outside help, who were no relation at all. Perhaps, this is the memory of “family” that many today keep close to the heart. 


Copyright 2019 Marie Asner