Despite being only eight films old in the industry, Alfonso Cuaron commands the rare reverence afforded to greats like Spielberg and Scorcese. The Mexican filmmaker started his career with ‘Solo con Tu Pareja’, a Spanish language film about two victims of love, who find solace in each other. It opened to positive reviews and was fairly successful at the box office. Cuaron has since attracted critical and commercial success with films like ‘Gravity’, ‘Children of Men’, and ‘Prisoners of Azkaban’. ‘Roma’, though, is the crown jewel of Cuaron’s filmography and essentially inks the year to his name.
‘Roma’ is a semi-biographical account of Cuaron’s childhood in a middle-class, white family in Mexico. It revolves around the central figure of Cleo, the selfless, devoted “manita” in a posh-house, based on Libo, Cuaron’s real-life nanny. The title “Roma” refers to the Colonia Roma, a neighborhood in Mexico City.
Cuaron first played with the idea of making a film about his childhood in the Roma neighborhood in 2006 after ‘Children of Men’. The project was shelved by Cuaron for quite some time as he struggled to coalesce the emotions of his memories. His intimate involvement in the story prompted prolonged contemplation on the idea of its portrayal in the film. In an interview with Variety, Cuaron refers to the works of Argentinian writer Jorge Borges and says, “Borges talks about how memory is an opaque, shattered mirror, but I see it more as a crack in the wall. The crack is whatever pain happened in the past. We tend to put several coats of paint over it, trying to cover that crack. But it’s still there”.
‘Roma’ is set in the year 1970 in Mexico City amidst political and social unrest in the country. The story focuses on a middle-class, white Mexican family and the domestic help of the household, Cleo. Although Cleo’s title only designates her as the housemaid, she is like a second mother of the children, who greatly value her friendship and affection. The couple, Antonio and Sofia, constantly quarrel, resulting in Antonio leaving the house on the premise of visiting a conference in Quebec. It is later revealed that he is having an affair, resulting in a divorce.
Meanwhile, Cleo’s personal life presents the promise of a great future. She begins dating the quiet and peculiar Fermin, who has a special interest in martial arts and further strengthens her bonds with the kids. When she is blessed with a pregnancy and tells Firmin about it, he leaves her and runs away. Her employer, Sofia takes her to the hospital for a checkup. Sofia and the kids, accompanied by Cleo, go to a friend’s hacienda to celebrate the New Year. While the final moments of the year wear down, a fire breaks out in the woods nearby. The whole group, along with the workers of the house, reach the spot and try to put out the fire. After Cleo comes back, she decides to visit Fermin and confront him about the situation. She takes a bus to the village where he stays. Ramon takes her to Fermin’s training area, where Fermin threatens Cleo to never contact him again, insults her, and leaves.