Seeing a Colorful Life in the Monochromatic World of ‘ROMA’
Academy Award-winning Director, Alfonso Cuarón, has instantly captured, yet again, the hearts of enthusiasts through his most recent masterpiece, ROMA. This semi-autobiographical film is an homage to his childhood growing up in his beloved hometown of Mexico City.
It bagged the Golden Lion award, which is regarded as the most prestigious honor given to a film, upon its debut at the illustrious Venice Film Festival. Its captivating story and ingenious cinematography have easily earned them nominations in the upcoming 76th Golden Globe Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Screenplay, and Best Director. Not to mention, it has made it to the December shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film in the upcoming 91st Academy Awards.
The Harrowing Streets of Colonia Roma
Set in the early 1970s, the story follows the life of Cleo, a local maid to a white middle-class family comprised of four kids, their parents – Sofia and Antonio, and their grandmother in the neighborhood of Roma. She lives a life of routine – doing household chores, preparing the meals, bringing the kids to school, tucking them in bed, and unwinding on weekends with her boyfriend and her good friend and co-maid Adela. Until one day, her world was turned upside down when she found out that she was expecting a child. To make matters worse, her boyfriend went into hiding upon learning about the situation. For most families, having a pregnant maid is a burden, but the matriarch embraced her with open arms as if she were her own. This gave Cleo a sliver of hope and strength that she is not alone in this challenging time.
The situation of the family she is working for is also on the brink of demise, due to Antonio’s hidden affair with a younger woman that caused him and Sofia to completely separate. It simply became a household forefronted by women who had to carry the weight of the unforeseen circumstances that life threw at them while remaining steadfast and strong for the kids.
It simply became a household forefronted by women who had to carry the weight of the unforeseen circumstances that life threw at them…
It was also a rough period for the community where violence was prevalent due to the conflicting ideologies and beliefs of the youth and the paramilitary group that was taking over the town. These horrifying events took a toll on everyone, especially Cleo, who found out that her boyfriend was part of this rebellion. Consequently, this distressing time led to the death of her stillborn child that brought trauma to her life.
Despite the harrowing and life-altering circumstances that came their way, they remained resilient and stronger as a family, and Cleo goes back to the routine she dearly loves.
Breaking Down the Narrative
The core of the narrative is simplistic and yet audiences were deeply moved by every aspect of it. It was remarkably complemented by Cuarón’s artistic vision with its long takes, meticulous production design, and bold choice of showing a world in black and white. ROMA has a deeper personal significance to Cuarón because it allowed him to share his memories and the lives of people we seldom pay attention to. He allowed us to experience and see the journey of ordinary people and the extraordinary lives they lead – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It emphasized the importance of family, being a woman in a turbulent society, the effects of political differences on the youth, and persevering in the midst of adversity. The manner and style of Cuarón’s direction from the editing, to the lens, to the camera movements immediately connected the audience to the characters as if we were walking and seeing life through their eyes every step of the way.
Cuarón dedicates this movie to Liboria “Libo” Rodriguez, his family’s nanny who took care of him since he was an infant. Her fervent grace, love, and loyalty made her a huge part of Cuarón’s family. Cuarón admitted that most of the characters in this film are based on the people he grew up with and the story was purely extracted from his childhood memories.
ROMA has a deeper personal significance to Cuarón because it allowed him to share his memories and the lives of people we seldom pay attention to.
This is the kind of story that Hollywood needs to produce more often, to expose society to the many ways different people experience life and how they cope with unfortunate circumstances. In that way, we could have more empathy and appreciation for the people who sacrifice a lot to give us a comfortable life even if they have their own battles to fight. We must acknowledge and love them as if they are our own. ROMA helped us recognize the everyday heroes in our society and also to examine our own humanity, which is what great storytelling should all be about.