Roma ★★★★★


*This is an essay about Mexico’s current family structure more than a review about Roma, because Roma makes that invitation before anything else.*

Very long, so turn on your printer, grab a cup of coffee and have a read. It’s less tiring to read on paper, I guess.

Every thought of artistic appreciation is derived from a sociological foundation. Artistic appreciation is an extrapolation from our social and spiritual conditions. These conditions, which influence, but do not determine the individual, are of utmost importance when either creating artwork or analyzing it from a critical/passive point of view. In short, you cannot dismiss the personality involved in both parties during the art creation process. Remove individuality and you become a generic voice, an arithmetic mean with zero standard deviation, undistinguishable from the rest of the consensus. A consensus is made, after all, of a sum of parts.

I bring this to the table because, far from looking popularity with my reviews, I want to come across as honest with myself, and invite others to be honest with themselves if possible. I always discover more of myself through the art of cinema and strengthen my convictions through the act of reviewing. Reviewing has become a process in which the most unconscious elements that cinema brings to me as a viewer - with its constantly evil/idealized/inspirational/fantasized agenda - are made conscious and God’s presence and values are solidified in my soul. My personality must reflect Christ in everything I do, think, act and say. This review is no exception.

Even if, with arms wide open, I am receiving (and thanking) all my international friends with this review, I must clarify that if you happen to be Mexican, this review concerns you. If you are a friend from abroad, this concerns you as well but not from the normally “foreign” eyes/perspective you might apply to a “foreign” film, trying to “empathize” with it while keeping “national” traditions/perspectives to yourself. This is a film of universal value, but must of all, a criticism to a social structure. The topics are:

I. About Roma being “artsy”
II. About “Roma being for intellectuals”
III. About “Roma being a film that says nothing”
IV. About its depiction of chauvinism
V. About its treatment of classism
VI. About a national identity
VII. About its political statement
VIII. About you and our hypocrisy

I. About Roma being “artsy”

You have no business here. You don’t understand the implications of the word and are an active participant of its misuse. This won’t be discussed. This is my filter, like any good Marketing Research questionnaire should have as a first question.

II. About “Roma being for intellectuals”

The “intellectual” class is a much overused term drastically overused today to try to “separate” viewers that watch cinema as a form of entertainment from those that elaborate an intellectual stream of thought out of it. However, it is also used by those that find life in cinema, a more meaningful existential and thought-provoking imprint, towards the same people and for the same purpose.

Even if directors/auteurs/artists in particular might try to divide audiences intentionally, something that always raises either an alarm, either good or bad, cinema is not discriminatory and, hence, no artwork should be. Some even try to make it so, but that doesn’t deprive anyone from the possibility of understanding a different mentality you would have never considered. In short, art is not exclusive. If you think this film is for that very subjectively labeled “class”, this film is more related to you than you think.

III. About “Roma being a film that says nothing”

This is the longest point, and for a good reason, including that is the point that is most connected with point VIII. Cuarón, most of the times (90%) directly and few times (10%) obtusely, seems to be portraying his memories of a social/family structure with the obvious intention of modern reflection. Many took, for X or Y reason, the publicity of Roma as an invitation to experience a walk down memory lane of La Colonia Roma in Mexico during the years of your childhood if you were born in the 50s or during the Cold War times. When you stumble upon the film, it happens to be a slap to your face. It is a clear demonstration that absolutely nothing has changed in the devil’s current strategy of family destruction and domestic loss of morality.

As a Mexican, it is paradoxical that I use foreign films to identify my nation, but I must for purposes of international reach. Coco is basically the mother of the family in Roma; they are generationally connected. The structure is the same and the circumstances are the same:

-Families are matriarchies.
-The one with money is the one with “power” in the family, one of the strongest false illusions that the devil created to deceive people to the point of disappointment and desperation.
-Families rarely have adult male presence, so the hero of the family must be the mother, and she is.
-Divorces, back then, were common, but a social taboo. People looked down on and demoralized women that had a divorce. Today, they are even more common in nominal (numerical) and relative (percentage) terms, but we have come to a stage of acceptance where we have transformed hypocrisy into cynicism.
-Social discrimination abounds. Before, insults were direct; today, they are both direct and indirect through the use of insulting jokes.

The only significant difference is the quality of medical assistance that the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS, for its initials in Spanish) brought to the Mexican population from the Second World War times until approximately the 80s. The institute was of high prestige and had the latest technology in medical assistance and quality in bringing attention to the population because of the brilliant idea of subtracting a fixed percentage of money from the salary of the Mexican workers. Nevertheless, during the 80s, the demographic explosion surpassed the capacity of the IMSS. The institute began to have excess of demand and, with all the money they had retained and stolen, began to sell jobs inside the IMSS. Today, people (not so) humorously tell horror stories about the IMSS, and I have one too, which is not the topic today.

The most prestigious and respectable professions among the adult generation depicted in Roma were accountants and IMSS general medics, the latter being a profession not chosen by mere chance here. The salary was considerably high and so was the prestige, and so, the world says that “the one that brings the money to the table is the one in power to take the decisions for the family”. My family is the first example I will put of this, as approximately more than 40% of the families of the students that have warmly received me as their professor have this situation: The mother must do every educational, financial and administrative decision while the father is away living a double life. More than 25% of the cases I know are already divorced, my family included. I am not standing for a representative sample of the Mexican population, but it is an interesting non-probabilistic consideration when you add that ITAM, my university, receives students across all of Mexico, including foreign students.

The devil’s structure, in summary, is the same: Work hard, study hard, “you can do it if you wish”, “you only live once”, achieve basic education, achieve a higher education, get a career title, get a job and get married. There must be zero time between each stage; otherwise, you’re staying behind.

Do you know what is the next step in a Godless life, where everything is done out of social pressure? Divorce and, in many cases, abandonment of disheartened children.

What is the next step from them? Apply exactly the patterns they learned at home: “My father taught me that I can throw away all of my responsibilities and live in my own perdition because I make my rules. He taught me to abandon everything. He taught me to have double lives.” If you are a woman: “I will never get married. All men are horrible. My father is abominable and so will be my husband. I hate my father, and the same treatment my father has is the same treatment my future husband deserves.” Notice that the latter is a contradictory statement. The wish to get married and have a family is still there, but there is a fear to execute it because it didn’t work in your family.

The mother presented here, I must accept, is idealized, but in an intelligent way, as she is not disproportionally unrealistic. She is a smart mother that knows how to hide adult situations from their children, because every daughter and son in a family is not supposed to take care of adult matters. When the abandonment from the father is finally revealed, she presents the situation as something that can be faced as long as they remain together. She presents it as an adventure.

My father, uncle, grandparents, and e.v.e.r.y. s.i.n.g.l.e. a.d.u.l.t. m.a.l.e. found within my family and relatives have done a terrible parenting job, and this film shows why. Roma openly showcases, with each event portrayed, the reasons of why youth seek for escapisms through fornication, friendships, running away from home, movies, literature, tattoos, alcoholism, drug addiction, the search of an undefined sexual identity, martial arts, and engagements prior to matrimony [insert abortions here]. None of these solutions bring stability; they bring depression, confusion and lies. I am including cinema if cinema is your way of living and escaping from your reality (which can bring along the danger of confusing real life with a fictional representation of your actual existence). I don’t have anything against them; on the contrary, I pray for them and I pray for my father’s recovery and return to Christ before he literally self-destructs (literally, I reiterate).

If you’re a father and you have distanced sons, think about how many times you sent the wrong signals as a leading figure, as an example to follow. Think about how many times you throw all your frustration over your children because of your adult problems. You might find a significant proportion of your answer there.

IV. About its depiction of chauvinism

Much of this has been spoken of already. It is radical, and unfortunately very literal. It is precise. Matriarchies were solidified in Mexico’s structure because men are normally not present. Even the regular work schedule since then have been so time-demanding that it is a miracle that fathers get home soon, as it is not-so-discreetly shown here when the father first makes an appearance. Analyze this family, and you will see is the maid and his family, the mother and the grandmother. The children are there as well. Normally, in Mexican families, children are left to the care of whoever is left after the man abandons the family, such as the father here, or the maid’s boyfriend after he becomes aware of the life-creating consequences of having sex. Where is the grandfather? Maybe he’s dead. That would indicate a life not taken care of. He died too soon. Where are the male relatives of the maid, Cleo? Only God knows.

V. About its treatment of classism

I see arguments stating that the film becomes paradoxical/contradictory when the central character, Cleo, is placed within another conflict of a wealthy family, and I say this is the most brilliant decision. It is also the fairest. Having maids back then was particularly common during the 70s. Either you served or got served. The conflict of Cleo is not minimized by the presence of the upper class whatsoever (please mind that the family treated here belonged to a social stratum that still represents the minority of the population).

As I mentioned, the mother figure here is portrayed idealistically, but spot-on and intelligently. She is desperate, but remains strong. The continuous shot of the climax by the sea, which happens to be a miracle of coordination, acting, composition and timing, ends with the best possible human solution after the inevitable abandonment from the father figure: “We are in this together; my family, and also you, Cleo. This is an adventure”. (The last sentence was paraphrases, not an actual quote).

So, it doesn’t offer you the Hollywood-esque happy ending, but offers an idealized response to the stance that families could take when facing this terrible situation. Also, please notice that the mother cannot do everything by her own. She really needed to fix the tires so they could return to the house that the father was emptying (literally and metaphorically), and these children had the enormous fortune of having a heroic maid to save them. Remove the maid, and your children are dead, woman, not only your matrimony.

VI. About a national identity

The aforementioned aspects can be easily extrapolated to a significant proportion to a national phenomenon. The structure seen here, the absence of men, the children having arguments where they could even use objects that could cause accidents or even kill themselves, the mother driving the entire situation, the students’ uprising, everything is still up to date. Nothing has changed. How sad. It’s like watching the Mexico of the new millennium, but with a different president and different cars (lots of Volkswagen cars as it was usual). The argument scene between the two brothers where he grabs a wood stick and then throws an object through the window is a VERY precise representation of how our parents and uncles used to fight between each other, with little intervention from the adults to actually emphasize the seriousness of the situation.

The inclusion of foreigners in the parties of the adults was also very common as Europeans during the late 60s had a war phobia. I know several families close to mine, including mine, which had a Scandinavian or European friend. The usual backstory was that the family decided to move out of their countries due to either an internal conflict or the fear of one happening soon. Why do you think they feel liberated using real guns shooting at the landscape? Seeing a Norwegian singing Nyttårsbukken really rang a bell in my life. So did Cloe, because during more than 20 years we had a maid that was literally the mother that my real mother couldn’t be when solving the atrocities of my father that still continue nowadays, and we really considered her as a member of the family. So did the mother, who rarely, but not never, through her frustration over her sons, sometimes physically, like spanking or a cheek slap, asking for forgiveness at the next moment. So did the trips with adults I didn’t know beneath clouds of alcohol and cigarette smoke. So did the ridiculously tight spaces to park the car inside (this was a common joke among current adults). So did the Galaxy car, because my wealthy grandfather (an accountant) had one, and that was one luxurious car. So did the passing of a plane above us every five minutes. So did the camotes sound. So did watching the Polivoces and El Loco Valdés on TV at night. So did the military band playing in the streets. So did the students’ uprising, which in this case refers to the movement lead by (but not attributed to) president Luis Echeverría (1970-1976), because our current president, a dictator in the rise, only knew to rebel against the “inconsistencies” of the federal elections system through organizing movements and a march that distorted the ordinary routine of the streets. So did the trips to the beach where the father was out of home, out of the country, doing “work”.

VII. About its political statement

The depiction of the Corpus Christi Massacre in Mexico during 1971 does not have an anti-Echeverría agenda like Larraín had an anti-Pinochet agenda. It is just circumstantial. Remember that the thematic of the film is strictly sociological, so during the massacre, before discussing the president’s and the government’s involvement in this conflict, which casually never found enough evidence to blame Echeverría, one should actually see how youth is learning to rebel against the socially unjust: Through destruction and violence. The government will always respond with equal measures and deny it later. That is abuse of power, alright, but the scene is key in launching Cloe’s tragedy and his lover’s moral perdition, which reminded me of my mother, who had a very painful delivery of my sister, Aileen Cochran, in 1992, and died three years later. We are in peace now, however, knowing that we will get to meet my sister again once we part from this world.

VIII. About you and our hypocrisy

And so, comes the moment of reflection. All adults (when I say all, it is “all”) that are praising the film as of now, which is a Netflix phenomenon (dude, like, really, this should be seen at a theater, not on Netflix), are posting their philosophical approaches of how Roma has the nostalgic power of bringing the best of your childhood memories back and add politics to convolute everything. That is precisely the target market of the film: The one’s that are currently in their 40s-60s. They are creating Facebook posts reading:

-Boy, those were the times in which we could rebel.
-Those were the good times in which there were no social media and still knew how to had fun.
-Those were the times in which we could go outside and play with anything, put things on fire, get scarred and get back home alive. We were survivors.

These posts are being done by adults that:

-Have their sons and/or daughters distanced and, in some cases, addicted to something
-Have married more than once
-Are currently dating the ex-wife of their best friends
-Have their sons and/or daughters abandoned
-Have their sons and/or daughters already divorced
-Have drinking problems
-Have tobacco problems
-Have a wife and are currently having an affair
-Have multiple families scattered across the city
-Are unemployed and extract every single cent from their most commonly-frequented wives

I won’t say you totally missed the point of the film. I would say you are hiding everything beneath the carpet, because whenever you are in a social gathering or make a public statement, digital or not, you are just portraying the best version of yourself. You cannot acknowledge any of the points above in your post and come as socially acceptable.

In this sense, I think that in the long run, this film will come as misunderstood, a temporary sensation that was actually an essay with a proper length of 135 minutes showcasing in full detail the roots that took you to your current life called disaster.

And what saddens me most is not that I just opened this paragraph with a conjunction, but that Cuarón’s conclusion about his own film is this:

“...that's exactly what life is like: it's chaotic and you can't really plan how you'll react to a given situation”.

Life is chaotic indeed. A life with God doesn't come without hardships, but it has an order and a purpose:

“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
-John 10:10

Introduce the factor of Christ into your life, and the generational bridges of destruction we are currently building will collapse.

A famous phrase here in Mexico is that those that do not study their history are condemned to repeat it. Well, apply that to your own history. This masterpiece is an invitation for that. Look at how your family is currently; look at the president you just chose.


What is Roma? Cuarón’s latest film, which is his definitive masterpiece, is not a trip down memory lane of the infancy of current adults, but a merciless slap to the face of the classism, chauvinism and social structures that have harmed families and youth today not only in Mexico, but in many countries around the world, everything embellished with the polished directorial style that Cuarón knows how to handle properly, in that weird spot between the static Ming-Liang and the mobile Tárr, much more humble and less poetic, but equally precise in his statements.

Cuarón, take a cookie. You have finally achieved your 5 stars.


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