Matriarchy (Roma movie review)

Alfonso Cuarón in his quasi-autobiographical, intimate, but a at the same time spectacular, movie “Roma” comes back to the land of his childhood – to the titled district of Mexico City. What’s important, the journey into the past doesn’t lead him to the poetics of idealization – the director is far away from painting the world of dream and gives to his  audience beautiful, but also bitter-sweet, in some moments even devastating, picture of the city that exists – above all – in his memories. Public meets private; the narrative about historical turmoil is intertwined with intimate, personal stories of two women and their broken hearts. It usually happens that way – personal dramas happen at the same time as the world is tearing apart.

Cuarón returns to places that he knows from childhood, but Roma as a district remains in the background of the story – in its centrum the director puts Cleo ( great Yalitza Aparicio) – a Mexican nanny whose character was inspired by a woman that was raising young Alfonso.  On the metaphysical level the entire movie seems to be an affirmation of women and matriarchy – an order that is bases on tenderness, kindness, and love and contrasted with patriarchy that the director presents as synonym of violence, anger and power that leads, above all, to destruction.

Cleo is a simple, ordinary girl, descendant of the Indian people, who left her family in search for better life. She takes care of the house of Sofia (very good Marina de Tavira) and her four kids. Although the family of the servant’s employers treats her with warmth and respect, she belongs to a different world, which is beautifully and subtly shown in the scene of New Year’s Eve party, when Sofia and her friends celebrate in wonderfully decorated garden, and Cleo with the rest of servants and other poor people from the neighbourhood spend that evening in basement-like, dark room, but – what’s important – the working class is not portrayed as oppressed or humiliated; on the contrary – the divided world seems to be perfectly harmonious and based on the mutual respect.

The director wants to make this border, which is determined by origin, social status, education, and – last but not least very – clear, to highlight the fact that harmony does not nullifies the difference. Cuarón seems to be saying that those who are subordinated will always remain on the position of weaker Others – even if they, as Cleo, are being loved by those who have power. It becomes very visible in scenes in which Sofia, who as the story goes by is getting closer to the nanny, unloads on the Cleo her frustrations. Two women, whose men left them, are trying to put themselves and their worlds together. Nevertheless, the similar experience, which makes their connection stronger, doesn’t change the fact that only one of them is in charge.

Cleo’s boyfriend left when she got pregnant, Sofia’s husband, who was always absent, disappeared completely. Masculinity in “Roma” is presented as toxic and dangerous and somehow detached from reality of everyday life. Cuarón builds a brilliant allegory of it with a stunning, but completely unpractical car that barely fits in the garage. Sofia always struggles to park it without any damage. When she realizes that her husband won’t be coming back and stops deluding herself, she gets a new – smaller – car that becomes a symbol of new beginning and acceptance, but also – or above all – another sign of the triumph of feminism. Ford Galexie, constantly rubbing the walls with its shiny body, becomes a metaphor of women immersed in the world dictated by men; getting rid of it seems to be a promise of emancipation.

The story that is being told in “Roma” seems to be extremely simple, but at the same time – thanks to the director’s sensitivity, his ability of showing panoramas and details in the same frames and – last but not least – telling the story of political conflicts in parallel to intimate dramas without pushing private tragedies into the margin of the narration – epic, because the story of prose of life, composed of leisurely images of what it’s made from, is anchored is specific historical moments. Despite of political contexts, “Roma”, above all, remains a beautiful movie about friendships and love, daily duties, growing up, missing someone and being missed, hoping from better tomorrow and crying over painful past. The director composes his tale from great and little sorrows, from bigger and smaller fears, and of more or less meaningful joys – like stepping into the sea or kissing in the cinema and does in a way that makes you miss the presented world.