By Andrea Undecimo
Alfonso Cuaron’s new movie, ‘Roma’, which has earned him the Academy Award for Best Director, and has won the Best Foreign Movie and the Best Cinematography Award, is a stunning, touching and delicate film that stretches back into Cuaron’s childhood and gives us a beautiful and intricate portrait of Mexico in the 1970s.
The movie depicts a bourgeois Mexican family living in Mexico City’s wealthy neighbourhood Colonia Roma- he is an acclaimed doctor while she works as a nurse in the same hospital- going through some difficult times as the harmony of the household is broken by the sudden walking away of the father, who falls in love with a younger woman. Parallel to this story runs the narrative of the indigenous women who work as handmaids for the family. Roma is, fundamentally, the tales of these two women- Cleo (played stunningly by novice Yalitza Aparicio), a young woman of Mixteco Mesoamerican heritage working for Sofìa (Marina de Tavira), her employer, who is also the ‘victim’ of her husband’s egoism that leaves her alone with her four children.
Cuaron’s talent in using at the same time the close-up and the wide shot, the poignantly recognized detail with the bigger picture, gives the movie a strange mixture of styles: the dramatic soap-opera merges with the epic and almost war-like scenes of the trainings of the militant groups that will later be responsible for the Corpus Christi massacre (a real event occurred in 1971 where 120 students were killed during a manifestation). Cuaron was also adamant in the decision to use black-and-white for the movie. As he told Emmanuel Lubezcki: “I didn’t want a film that looks vintage, that looks old. I wanted to do a modern film that looks into the past”. In this way, the acclaimed Mexican director has been able to create the dreamy-like atmosphere in which the personal stories of Cleo and Sofia unfold, reflecting the struggles but also the tenderness stemming from the contact between these two distant and, simultaneously,intertwined worlds: the one of the rich and privileged bourgeoisie of Mexico and the one of the indigenous, deep reality of the country.
Guillermo Bonfil, a famous Mexican anthropologist, in his book “Mexico profundo: una civilizacion negada” has characterized this two clashing realities with the categories of Mexico imaginario and Mexico profundo: the former represents the Mexico that is shaped in the image of the Western, colonial world, the one that borrows the system of values from the foreign powers and that was born 500 years ago from the colonial encounter; the latter has existed a long time before the Spaniards conquered this land, and is made of the multitude of cultures and people that together form the Mesoamerican heart of the country that today survives in the endangered indigenous communities of Oaxaca, Chiapas,and many other regions. Through the lense of Bonfil’s theory, the movie takes a completely new significance: it comes to picture the centuries-old conflict between the imagined nation that exists only in the eyes of the Other and its profound history, cultures, traditions embodied in the stoic resistance of the people who are fighting for their dignity. The silence of Cleo (she speaks very rarely throughout the movie, while the other characters are often loudly garrulous) can, in my opinion, be read in this sense: she, just like many other thousands of people, is fighting a long and quiet battle against the prejudice, the everyday practice of racism that surrounds the First Nation people, those who form the bulk of this society, a battle that is so embedded in the ordinary discourse that it has become difficult to recognize it.
However, just as every good piece of art, Roma has succeeded in bringing the issue to public attention, waking up the dogs that started to bark against Yalitza Aparicio, guilty of not complying with the Mexican norms of beauty and ultimately to be too brown and too indigenous.
A parody of Yalitza Aparicio on the red carpet.
The brighter side of the coin, however, is that for the first time after the movie, Indigenous women have received some attention from the media, mostly dominated by light-skinned women, to the point that Yalitza appeared on the cover of Vogue. Hopefully, after Roma there will be more recognition towards the struggle that Indigenous women undertake in Mexico and in the entire world.
Andrea Undecimo, Class of 2020, is an Anthropology and Law Major from Macerata, Italy.
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