We don’t often write movie reviews for this blog but are so inspired by the recent Mexican film Roma, for many reasons. We were far into the film, a scene at the ocean in Veracruz, before we astonishingly realized this movie was shot in black and white. There is so much color in the culture, the people, and the language that hues and tones burst out of each scene. It’s a testament to the colors of Mexico, which has drawn many of us here, to brighten our lives and that of others.
Roma, which is love in Spanish spelled backwards, is a movie packed with everyday Mexican life. Though is takes place in 1971, there is much that has not changed and life of many generations continues to thrive. Roma is a section of the Cuauhtémoc borough of Mexico City. which during the era it is set, the early 70’s, was an upper to middle class vicinity. It was beset with decline over the years, and more recently taken over by hipsters.
Alfonso Cuarón wrote, directed and took over the cinematography of Roma and is known for a variety of successes, including the highly acclaimed Gravity; his first major success. Other projects include Y Tu Mamá También; Children of Men; and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Bent on authenticity for Roma, Cuarón gathered furniture from his family’s assorted homes throughout Mexico; most of the movie is filmed on location, relying on few sets. Anyone who’s been in a furniture store in Puerto Vallarta will see the complete accuracy of the upper level establishment where Cleo, the protagonist, goes with her matron (employer) to buy a crib for her unborn baby. There are no details untouched by authenticity of the era.
Vendors will be recognizable by anyone living in Puerto Vallarta; their street calls remain the same over many decades. Unless you are Mexican or have lived in the country for long enough to recognize him, the alfiliador who appears in Roma will hold little significance but it is a major turning point in the film. As Cleo sits mourning in her humble quarters, Adela, another maid, calls out to Cleo the presence of the afilador, the knife sharpener, warning his arrival with his familiar piccolo. In Mexican lore, the afilador carries portent, and is commonly used to scare little children into behaving. Adela is letting Cleo know it’s time to pull it together and get on with life.
There are subtleties throughout. Airplanes flying overhead in many scenes, as well as the opening and closing, represent the constancy of air travel above Mexico City, a major hub, and they also indicate a vast world outside this small one encompassed in a massive city.
The ocean scenes will have an effect on those of us in Puerto Vallarta, and Alfonso Cuarón does nothing to lessen the deafening roar. There is no doubt to the attraction, the pleasure, and the imminent danger.
We struggled with some of the language without knowing certain characters were speaking Mixtec, an indigenous idiom, but the film is subtitled. Roma is currently available on Netflix.
Que es cómo es.