ROMA. Written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón wth Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira and Diego Cortina Autrey. Netflix and Ster-Kinekor Cinema Nouveau.


My friends have been talking about this film and so I watched it on Netflix last night. It is a haunting, beautiful, strange and deeply familiar film that has left me thinking about it all day.

Roma Review

IMDB describes the plot simply. “A story that chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family’s maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s.”

Shot in black and white, and with delicacy and attention to detail both visually and through its soundscape, the impact of this movie is incredibly difficult to articulate, largely because it inhabits the world of feelings, nuances, and things unsaid.

In a year we see the changes that happen in the lives of a middle-class family and their servant Cleo. There are parallels and stark differences, both in their worlds and how they travel in it.

A bored dog that lives out its life in a courtyard/garage. Two servants that share a small, cramped bedroom away from the main house. Things that get done for a middle-class family without them acknowledging them. Lives that are lived without inhibition in front of people who are not seen, even though they are loved in a strange and dependent way. A servant who cannot swim, who has no real power over her body, who has no privacy. A family with their own drama, who play it out in front of the servant because their lives are incomparable.

The movie is strangely female, with both male protagonists being runaways. Set with the Mexican uprising as backdrop, this film focuses more on the personal than the political, although the influence of what is happening is felt.

I kept on feeling the similarities of white, middle-class South Africa in the seventies, when I was growing up, but softer. Of course, in Mexico the divisions were class and colour, and in South Africa separation was law, and cruelty. But this notion of having servants ever present in a space and witnessing others’ lives was hauntingly familiar.

Cuarón has drawn heavily from his own past and Roma is both homage and critique, but it manages to stay so personal and reflective there is no distance between what was and what should have been. It’s hard to explain. It is the story told from privilege, but without excusing it. And as white South Africans it gives us a clue about how to look at, and deal with, our own privilege and past.

What: Roma

Where: Netflix and Ster-Kinekor Cinema Nouveau