Thursday, December 27, 2018

ROMA 12/27/18

Saw the much-acclaimed film ROMA and was seduced by the B&W digital photography and all the gray values that the camera was able to discern. It felt like a technologically enhanced version of films that I would see at the Heights Movie Theater (the local Washington Heights Art House} that only showed "foreign films". It was a delicious place because the movies they presented were more explicit about everything and that included sex - which made it a frequent destination point in the late 1950s.

ROMA is a personal film by Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron dedicated to the woman LIBO who raised him - In the film, she is called Cleo and is the live-in maid in the family home in the Roma upper-middle-class neighborhood of Mexico City. The movie is shot against the 1970s backdrop of violent political and student unrest. Is this just another nostalgic tale told by a now successful man who is very aware of the large class divide in his home country? I had mixed feelings but am still sorting them out.

I agree with much of what Brody wrote but have some caveats. I thought ROMA was beautifully filmed in B&W - in homage to 50's Italian Neorealist film-makers. There are moments when the slow movement of the camera pans on and caresses not only the daily activities of a servant's duties but focuses on the essentials of life itself such as flowing water, rooftop sunlight creating transparent shadows on sheets drifting in the wind, revealing a cover of comfort and reminding us that they are also a consequence of drudgery, and a dog's excrement, squished from being stepped on, as if to tell us not to forget that shit is everywhere and unavoidable.

When a Master/Guru addresses a group of martial arts students and asks them to attempt to stand like a heron on one foot, arms up and eyes tightly - no one can perform this seemingly simple exercise - except for Cleo who is balancing on one foot without tottering. This act acknowledging her endurance and stoicism and the ability to with-stand (no pun intended) the world around her - that of extreme poverty and class disparity, a world where she sustains her role in silence acquiring the love of the children who adore her.

Yes, it is sentimentalized; yes it is patronizing, but it is a reality - in many many cultures. The loving maid/servant/slave surrogate mother who nurses a generation of children who are not her own.

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