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Film / Roma

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Roma is a 2018 drama film written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón.

It is set in Mexico City in 1970-71, and is is a semi-autobiographical take on Cuarón's upbringing. (In fact, the house in the movie is located directly across the street from the house where Cuaron grew up.) The protagonist is Cleodegaria Gutierrez, the live-in maid for an upper-middle class family. She works for Sofia and Antonio, parents of four children, and Antonio's mother Teresa. It eventually becomes clear that Antonio and Sofia's marriage is strained, and Antonio is seizing multiple opportunities to be away from home. Meanwhile, Cleo is dating Fermin, an aspiring martial artist.

The June 10, 1971 Corpus Christi massacre is a major plot point.

It began being available to stream on Netflix on December 14, 2018, but it has been in limited theatres since November of that year.

No connection to Federico Fellini's 1972 film Roma.

This film provides examples of:

  • An Aesop:
    • Servants aren’t family by blood, and there’s still an economic motivator, but the work they put in raising the family can make them very much like it themselves.
  • Author Appeal: Like many of Cuaron's other works, the film's main ending scene takes place in the ocean.
  • Author Avatar: Paco is most closely related to director Alfonso Cuarón.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Fermín, the father of Cleo's baby, is a participant in the Corpus Christi massacre.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: During the Corpus Christis massacre, Cleo watched the murder of a young man in a furniture store. Immediately, her water breaks. Subverted as her daughter is stillborn.
  • Bait the Dog: Fermín has a very eccentric establishing scene, where he practices his martial arts in front of Cleo while naked. The way he talks about his past and the poverty he grew up in makes one feel sorry for him. As the film goes on he's shown to be selfish, unempathetic, and much more violent than he first let on. He abandons Cleo when she gets pregnant with his child, threatens her, and has no sympathy. He also ends up violently suppressing protesters at the Massacre.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Antonio has abandoned the family for his mistress, and Cleo has suffered through her own abandonment and stillbirth, but Cleo, Sofia, and the rest are still strong together. Sofia is going to work, and Cleo is still an important person to the family.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • As Cleo is in labor, Antonio claims he can't stay with her because her doctor won't allow him. When said doctor tells him it's all right if he wants to stay with her, he makes an excuse to avoid doing so.
    • After Cleo tells Fermín about her pregnancy at the movie theater, he unconvincingly states that pregnancy is a good thing before awkwardly claiming he needs to go to the bathroom, despite it being the end of the movie. Unsurprisingly, he disappears.
  • Book Ends:
    • The film opens with waves of water cascading across the driveway of the home and a one-shot of Cleo working through the quiet house. It ends with Cleo running out into real ocean waves to save two of the children and another one-shot of Cleo and the family loudly moving through the house together.
    • In a more directly visual way: The film opens with a shot of the sky with an airliner cruising through it reflected in the water, it ends with a direct view of the same sky and airline jets flying through it.
  • Car Radio Dispute: The children have an ongoing dispute about which radio program is the best and fight over it whenever they get in the car.
  • Cheerful Child: Pepe. Cute when he's stomping around in the rain, cute when he's rubbing Cleo's belly with the belief she has a stomachache, cute when he's helping put out the fires with a tiny watering can.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The entire film is shot in black-and-white.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • One house had taxidermized heads of the family's dearly departed dogs. Cleo is visibly put off by it.
    • The lone Yankee lady is the only woman wearing pants. The Mexican women- regardless of ancestry- are wearing skirts or dresses in the same scene.
  • Dirty Coward: Sofia's outraged because, not only is Antonio cheating on her and living with his mistress, he doesn't even have the guts to tell their children himself. When Cleo is in labor Antonio tries to comfort her, but is quick to leave when presented the chance, happy to be free from any of his past life.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: In a horrifying example, Paco notes that there was a child who was throwing water balloons at passing cars. When he hit an army vehicle, a soldier came out and promptly shot him in the head.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When a pregnant Cleo's cup breaks during the New Year celebration as she toasts to her baby's health and a good 1971, it clearly troubles her. Her baby dies after she goes into labor during a moment of horrifying violence.
    • While Cleo is observing the martial arts training, Zovek performs a pose that he claims only the strongest alive can do properly. While everyone else around her struggles, Cleo does it perfectly in one try. She's also the one who stays the strongest when everything else seems to be falling apart around her.
  • Gratuitous Japanese: Fermín after his showing-off of martial arts, also his class is shown practicing with the trainer marking the moves in Japanese.
  • Hate Sink: As the film goes on, Fermín is shown to be a self-absorbed asshole who doesn't take responsibility for Cleo's pregnancy and loudly threatens her in public. His participation in the Corpus Christi massacre only further cements this.
  • Hollywood Drowning: Averted. When the two children are drowning in the ocean near the end of the film, it's horribly realistic, with Sofi only managing to silently raise her hands over her head as she goes under.
  • Jerkass: Fermín. He abandons Cleo after learning she's pregnant, refuses to see her, and when she finally manages to track him down he refuses to acknowledge the baby as his and threatens her with violence against ever looking for him again. The next (and last) time we see him, he's participating in the Corpus Christi massacre... as one of the murderers.
  • Kindly Housekeeper: Cleo is generally pleasant and genuinely loves the children she works for. Despite not knowing how to swim, she even goes into the ocean to rescue two of them.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Cleo was a virgin before she met Fermín and barely had any sexual activity before becoming pregnant. And she didn't want the baby, either, especially when it's revealed how terrible of a person Fermín is.
  • Leave the Camera Running: A lot of the film is just capturing events in a slowly panning/dollying wide shot. Most of them are pretty mundane, but some are more complex, like a fire in a forest or the kids playing in the ocean.
  • Maid: The protagonist here is Cleo, a maid for a middle-class family, a common familial staple at the time.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Fermín shows off some martial arts moves to Cleo while completely naked.
  • Meaningful Name: For English speakers Fermín looks and sounds a lot like vermin. Note that it is a rather common Spanish name.
  • New Year Has Come: A fire breaking out and Cleo's cup breaking during the 1970-71 New Year's celebration is a harbinger of bad things to come.
  • Nice to the Waiter: The children all love Cleo and treat her like family, a mutual feeling. Sofia also treats her well, but her occasional snaps and outburst (an understandable product of her stress over her husband's infidelity) remind the viewer that Cleo is not family. Despite this, Sofia affirms at the end how much the family loves and needs her.
  • The Oner: The film is absolutely full of them, for both the upsetting (the hospital scene, the massacre) and the mundane (Cleo turning off the lights and going through the house).
  • Period Piece: The film is one for Mexico City from 1970-71, which was also when and where the director grew up. The characters watch a movie that came out in that time (Marooned), drive cars appropriate to the era, and facing the political upheavals of the era. It’s a more subdued example than most, though.
  • Pietà Plagiarism: During the massacre scene, there's an extended shot of a woman holding her dead lover and screaming for help.
  • The Place: The title is a reference to the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City, where the family lives.
  • The Precious, Precious Car: Antonio has a nice Ford Galaxie that takes him forever to park carefully in the narrow space at home as his children wait to greet him. When it's clear he's left the family, Sofia accidentally gouges it up between two trucks before clumsily and drunkenly parking it in the garage. She ends up trading it for a narrower car that, symbolically, fits perfectly into the home.
  • Road Apples: The family's dog poops everywhere in the garage, and said poop gets several loving close-ups and references.
  • The '70s: The film takes place during 1970 and 1971.
  • Shout-Out:
    • One of the films the family views is Marooned, a cult classic among Mexicans around Cuarón's age, which in itself is a Shout-Out to his own film Gravity, inspired by Marooned.
    • The moment mentioned in Pietà Plagiarism is similar to one in Cuarón's Children of Men, as the man's death is caused by a repressive government in both that and Roma.
    • The beachside bar where Sofia tells her kids that Antonio has left them looks nearly identical to the bar near the end of Y tu mamá también
    • The Stinger after the credits, "Shantih Shantih Shantih", is a triple reference: to The Waste Land, the Upanishads, and Children of Men, in which the phrase is used repeatedly.
  • Slice of Life: The story of the day-to-day life of a young maid, intersecting briefly with a number of historical events that took place in Mexico.
  • Token White: Sofia's sister-in-law is an American, she and her young son are the only characters who speak in English during the film.
  • Tragic Stillbirth: Subverted. Cleo's baby is born dead, and while she's obviously overcome by this for the rest of the film, it's revealed after the ocean rescue that the brunt of her grief is from not having wanted the baby.
  • Wedding Ring Removal: We don't see it removed, but in one scene as Cleo is going through laundry, she finds Antonio's wedding ring in a drawer.
  • Wham Shot: When the massacre begins outside the store, and gunmen come charging in to pursue a fleeing couple, the camera keeps circling slowly to reveal the gunman aiming at Cleo is Fermin.
  • Women Are Wiser: Cuarón states that the film was a love letter to the women in his life. The women are generally portrayed as hardworking, loyal, and holding things together, while the men are generally adulterous, violent, childish and impulsive. Sofia even outright tells Cleo to never depend on a man, as women are all alone in the world.