1899 Episode 8 Recap: The Key

Alfonso Cuarón's Roma (2018) A Window into the Life of a Working Class Woman

For every person who keeps their hands clean and smooth from doing heavy duty manual labor, there are people who work thanklessly in the background, making life comfortable for those few. This is the subject of Roma, a film set in Mexico City with original screenplay written in Spanish. Roma takes one of those hardworking people and brings her front and center.

Cleo is the housekeeper of a middle-class family in the 1970s. She cleans the house, cleans the dog poo off the house entrance, brings the family tea, and serves them at mealtime. Cleo comes across as diligent, hardworking, sweet, shy, non-demanding, and loving. The children seem to adore her. She is a constant in their lives, and they treat her as one would expect a person who demands or expects nothing in return. At times, she’s like wallpaper. Other times, they are affectionate with her and desire her attention.

There isn’t much plot to this movie. Cleo does have some romantic adventures and deals with an unexpected pregnancy, and the family goes through some challenges with Cleo standing by to help them. However, the film is more a series of episodes that show you different aspects of Cleo’s year. There are moments of action, but through it all, the camera stays on Cleo, reminding us of her presence.

The viewer is left then in a rare position. There is no one telling us what to think or how to feel about what we are watching. We are free to examine and connect – to judge and peep – to make of Cleo what we will. To make of the people who surround her what we will. And let me tell you, some of it isn’t pretty.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I will tell you at one point, I was sobbing gut-wrenching cries in my living room. I didn’t expect that, and I haven’t had that reaction to a film in a while. Perhaps the last time was watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I was reminded of how cinema can make us feel so much.

Roma was a look into the window of a life. Cleo’s life as a housekeeper/maid is something I’ve never experienced. This meandering, beautiful film has lovely imagery, compelling characterizations, and a leisurely pace.

By the way, the cars and the furniture in the family home are all utterly divine. 

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