At the heart of it, Spanish movie, ROMA is a story of a maid and her middle-class employers in 1970 Mexico. A rare mainstream movie that devotes itself to the emotions of a house helper makes ROMA a very relatable watch. Cleo is deeply loved by her employers and she reciprocates in double doses – note the gentle way she makes the four kids wake from sleep every day, one by one, gently caressing their foreheads, cajoling softly to get up. Or the amount of emotional dependency the kids have on her, always physically clinging to her. It reminded me of the era when maids were members of a family, rather than being contracted employees as is the case today in most developed countries.
Cleo gets pregnant, her boyfriend abandons her inside a movie hall on hearing this news, her employer Sofía supports the childbirth process while undergoing her own marital separation issues. Cleo’s child is stillborn, but she bounces back to normalcy soon enough. Later she risks her life to save her employer’s kids and proclaims that she never wanted the baby, suggesting that she was happy with the family with whom she was staying.
ROMA has been sweeping a lot of awards and expected to do very well in the upcoming Oscars ie Academy Awards too. However, as a viewer, I found it very slow and needed to check time frequently to know how much more of the movie was left to finish. The one point fixed revolving camera technique used for capturing most scenes had mixed impact on me. While it details every aspect of the surroundings, it lacks the close-up zoom feature and angles needed for the audience to start feeling for the characters.
ROMA biggest strength, aside from love and respect for a maid, is in several scenes that stay in heart forever. The way the car is parked by the man of the house. When Cleo breaks the news of her pregnancy to Sofia – notice how one of the kids hug Cleo on seeing her weep. When Cleo delivers a stillborn baby and the doctors are trying hard to recover the heartbeat with rhythmic CPR. The scene in a furniture store when Cleo’s boyfriend, who has turned into a political trouble maker, points the gun at her. When Sofia breaks the news to the kids that their father would never come home again, although he still loves them (but not her). When Cleo wades into the sea, unafraid that she doesn’t know to swim, risking her life to save her employer’s kids. When the kids hug Cleo on the beach as the sun peeps through them. And more.
At the end, when Sofia is separated from her husband, the house looks less cluttered, the car gets smaller but easier to park and their lives, a lot simpler. It probably is a message that love, and only love, makes a better house. An earning member, or a male head of a family or compromised relations can never be the ingredients of a happy home.
My Rating: 3.5/5
IMDB Readers Rating: 8/10
ROMA is currently streaming on Netflix globally.