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Roma Is Good , But Not A Great Film





Written  &  Directed by  Alfonso Cuaron

Rating; *** ½ (3 and a half stars)

 The critics are going into a collecting swoon over celebrated  Spanish  cine-director Alfonso Cuaron’s  latest  film, an  introspective brooding meditative study of the  place of a house-help in a well-to-do family of Mexico.

I can understand  the Western  critics’  heightened impressiveness . The Faithful Maid is not something they  meet every day. For us in Asian communities  staunchly almost obsessively loyal house-help is not  such a rare  thing. My own  Man Friday has been  with us for 26 years.He will happily give his life for us, just  like Cleo(Yalitza Aparacio, so real she is invisible) in  Roma who, in one of the film’s most moving and edifying sequences, jumps into sinister seawaves to  rescue  two  of the children   of  the family she considers her own.

 Luckily  for Cleo, the family loves her  like one of their own. Curan  portrays  the dynamics  of  the  household  with  immense intuitive warmth. Considerable time at  the start of  the  film is spent constructing Cleo’s  household routine and the unwavering rhythms of her day-to-day life. These  are  so  lovingly detailed and so lingering you wonder where  it is all leading to .

And after a  point  you accept the pointlessness of Cleo’s routine as  being the point.

About 10 minutes  in the beginning  show Cleo washing the home’s driveway floor in the morning, preparing  for the household to wake, serving breakfast etc. Then at the  end  of the  film when a couple of dramatic high points have  given Cleo’s story a cutting edge, she is seen climbing up the stairs  to the  roof to wash clothes. She vanishes  from camera range while we watch patiently as  the end-credits roll by.

Despite its long passages  of selfindulgence, Roma is  a not a boring film. Its exposition on the ennui  of  everyday chores is constantly  kindred  by a sense  of  unstated wisdom and comprehension  of how life’s most mundane  activities give it  a heft in ways we can never describe. The  domestic dynamics are  brilliantly portrayed. Cleo is always  an organic  part of  her employers’ household —witness the  beautiful sequence when the  lady  of the house Sofia(Marina De Tavira) sits Cleo down with her on the sofa and  holds her hand when Cleo tearfully announces  her  pregnancy. 

But the subtle separation  from the family, the class distinction, hovers at the edges  ocassionallly bubbling to the surface.When Sofia in one dramatic moment,screams at Cleo she flinches slightly as though trying  not to show her reaction to a slap.

Roma is  finally  a  film that works for its silences. Long stretches  of  unspoken tranquil harmony  punctured by  bouts of political  violence, give  the narrative  a feeling of  a ruminative symphony.The lengthy sequence in the labour room where  Cleo gives birth to  a still born  baby, haunted me not just for its obvious tragedy but the compassion that the doctors shower on  the traumatized Cleo . Class  differences are all but forgotten.

This  is  Mexico in  the 1970s when hierarchy  must have been supreme. The film circumvents the  prejudices with much pride and  affection . The vintage cars, single-seater theatres and revolutionary student  groups are captured  in the  black-and-white cinematography by director Alfonso Curan himself, with a meticulousness which is hard to  appreciate  on a computer screen or , God forbid, a phone.

What stays with you is  the  protagonist’s selfworth duly preserved by her employers but badly  battered by her  boyfriend who in a bizarre sequence, shows  Cleo his martial arts moves, and a lot more.

Why the full frontal nudity in a film that respects  understatement in almost every frame? Or is this Curan’s way of telling us that aesthetic experiences are wont to be intruded upon by some display of crassness. At that moment the embarrassed Cleo becomes the  cinema aesthete while her naked boyfriend  is  the hedonist who makes or watches  Aquaman.

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