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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Roma is a drama, in Spanish and Mixtec (a native dialect used in some parts of Mexico) with English subtitles, from Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuaron (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Gravity). Telling the story of a maid and the troubled family she lives with, circa 1971-1972, it's a gorgeous, moving masterpiece, but it includes some very mature material. There's a scene in which a student demonstration turns violent; guns are drawn, and characters are shot and killed. Some blood is shown. There's also tension, arguing, and shouting. A sustained sequence of full-frontal nudity is shown as a naked man demonstrates his martial arts moves. Kissing is shown, and sex is suggested. "S--t" and "f--k" are used (spelled out in the subtitles). Characters drink socially, mainly at a New Year's party, and smoke.
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What's the story?
In ROMA, in 1971, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) works as a maid for a family in Mexico City's Roma district, an emblematically middle class neighborhood in Mexico City that also known as Colonia Roma. Cleo has a good relationship with the family's three children, whom she takes care of, and things seem to be going well enough, despite the household's obvious socioeconomic disparity (Cleo and Adela, the maids, live in a tiny room and can't leave the lights on at night, while their employers have a very comfortable space with all sort of amenities). But the husband and wife's relationship is under some strain, and before long the husband departs, leaving Sofia (Marina de Tavira) in charge. Meanwhile, Cleo becomes involved with a young man named Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) and gets pregnant. Fermin disappears, but Sofia lovingly agrees to help Cleo with the pregnancy. Cleo tracks down Fermin, who brushes her off, denying any involvement. Cleo and Sofia come from very different backgrounds, but they decide to join forces to raise the kids. Meanwhile, student protests turn violent all over the city, eventually becoming what is now known as the Corpus Christi Massacre (taking place just three years after another violent episode in Tlatelolco) -- and Cleo finds herself facing her deepest fears in more ways than one.
Is it any good?
Director Alfonso Cuaron follows up the excellent Gravity the best way he can, by going back to his childhood to make this loving ode to the women who raised him. The film is a poetic, crystalline visual glory, demonstrating Cuaron's graceful, effortless, yet complete command over light, space, and rhythm. It recalls films like Sunrise and The Night of the Hunter, as well as European masters like Bresson, Fellini, and Antonioni. But thematically, it's all Cuaron's, as he follows his characters moving through impressively beautiful, massive, and sometimes threatening space. He continues to use his trademark sustained, unbroken shots, and while he's already proven himself a master at the use of color, here his use of black-and-white proves that he's just as adept with shadows and textures. (The opening shot, with an airplane reflected in a puddle on the floor, is a beauty.) And his detailed recreation of early-'70s Colonia Roma is impeccable, from the music and food to the cars and the use of very Mexican expressions.
Cleo, who represents the reality of millions of domestic employees in Latin America who basically do everything in the house, including waking kids up in the morning and supervising them at night, is a curious character. She's seemingly impassive, almost as if shy to show her emotions. But when she does, it's tender and moving. Roma really puts her through the ringer, but as in Cuaron's other stories of women (A Little Princess, Gravity, etc.), his approach is delicate and affectionate; he never bludgeons. Cleo's trials and tribulations are foreshadowed with little omens, such as a small earthquake in a hospital or a fire, that are almost indirect suggestions of conflict. Even moments of intensity, as when a demonstration turns into a violent riot or Cleo gives birth, are handled as if the viewer were in shock or disbelief. The filmmaker is on our side, not trying to bash us over the head. Most affecting and most memorable are the small, fleeting moments of joy and beauty, touches that make Roma another Cuaron masterpiece.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Roma. Is it intense? Is it shocking? How does the filmmaker achieve these reactions?
How does the movie depict sex? What values are imparted? Are there consequences to sex?
Is Cleo a role model? Why or why not? Is she portrayed with dignity and humanity? What does her role/life suggest about the importance of every job?
How are the men depicted in the movie? How do they behave? Is there any male behavior worth emulating? What can be learned from this behavior?
Why do you think a maid/nanny like Cleo (who was inspired by director Alfonso Cuaron's own childhood caretaker) leaves such a strong impression on the kids she takes care of? How does her role in their live tie into appreciation and gratitude?
- In theaters: November 21, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: December 14, 2018
- Cast: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Fernando Grediaga
- Director: Alfonso Cuaron
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 135 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: graphic nudity, some disturbing images, and language
- Awards/Honors: Golden Globe
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