Roma moved me: I cried repeatedly and profusely. To me, this means a work of art has succeeded, has touched me, has connected, has allowed me to relate to a circumstance outside my own head and ken.
The things I admired most in Roma are, not surprisingly, themes and constructs I have mentioned often elsewhere. To me, Roma is about being a very small person living out a very small life against a backdrop of very large events. The latter become history: the big story of a nation; the former is humanity, the very real events of birth and death and love and loss. The two are not the same: history makes the textbooks and the newspaper headlines; people, on the other hand, die and mostly take their stories with them—possibly lingering on in an anecdote or two; less commonly becoming the object (although not necessarily the subject) of an artist’s work.
Generally, I avoid reviews of movies I am planning to write about. But I read a few just now of Roma, and found there is a certain rather powerful albeit presumably minority viewpoint that maintains Roma is a kind of cultural appropriation, a privileged male condescending yet again to the faithful household retainer. I even read one that faulted a self-admittedly faultless movie because the director wasn’t a woman.
Everyone is entitled to an opinion. But isn’t it a more fruitful and positive and uplifting experience to seek out the human and the humane—the commonalities in the details and in the grand sweeps—rather than to call an artist to task for occupying a particular vantage point?
In this regard, my observations of “small” lives do not apply only to Cleo, the indigenous nanny at Roma‘s heart. But they extend also to her employer, the mother of four who is unceremoniously and callously left by her husband of many years. And the children. And the servants. And the grandmother. And all the people they touch and interact with, while earthquakes, forest fires, revolutions, ocean tides, and other inevitable, immutable, and—above all—indifferent actions and events play out around them.
I felt Roma was about all these things bigger than us, the random cruelties and complications that assail us while, as John Lennon has it, we’re busy making other plans. Big, powerful forces are at play, and Cleo—and the other characters in the movie, and us—have very little say in the matter, very little control. Ultimately, as the existentialists have it, our only point of control is how to face that lack of control.
And here is why Sarah thinks Roma is life-affirming. Because even at the very bottom of the social food chain, Cleo chooses life and love and duty. And that touched the filmmaker, Alfonso Cuarón. And his telling of his remembrances—skewed and perhaps self-serving, as are all our remembrances—has the power to touch us, and to recognize the dignity and beauty of scruffy childhood homes, habits, and relations.