Roma ★★★★½

It may be close to pointless to go to bat for a popular and widely acclaimed film like Roma, but most of my peers on this terrible site (and the other terrible site, the one that starts with a ‘T’) seem to hate it, so here goes:

The class politics of Roma are certainly a viable topic for debate, but a few of the arguments against the film seem to be made in (gasp!) bad faith. In particular, some critics are conflating the depiction of class difference as an endorsement of it, and suggesting that the meaningful two-way relationship between Cleo, the live-in maid at the centre of the film, and the family that employs her is somehow proof of this.

In the already-famous “beach scene” near the end of the movie (spoilers ahead, I guess), Cleo wades out into the water to save the lives of two of the family’s children: Paco and Sofi. Recently, she had lost her own child in a very graphic stillbirth scene. Still in mourning, the family’s mother encouraged her to take a vacation with the family, promising that Cleo would not be expected to do any work.

Of course, this is untrue. Cleo dresses the children, applies sunscreen before they go to the beach and watches over them, just as she is employed to do at their home in Mexico City. She is also there to comfort the children when Sofia informs them about the real reason for their vacation: mom and dad are getting a divorce and dad needs you out of the house so he can pick up his shit.

At the beach, a recently traumatized Cleo watches as the waves grow stronger while her two wards are still in the water. Realizing they may not make it back, she goes in to get them. After grabbing Paco, Sofi seems to disappear under the waves and the heart of the audience breaks (YMMV) for Cleo, wondering if she’ll lose another child in this friggin' movie. Ultimately, however, Cleo prevails and makes it back to shore with Sofi and Paco in tow.

Cleo’s more-than-professional relationship to the children (and the emotional turmoil that results from such a relationship) is the class politics. Despite being promised a little rest and relaxation on the beach, the unspoken job requirement for Cleo is that she will be responsible for the emotional labour of her surrogate family. While Sofia (the mother) certainly sympathizes with Cleo after the stillbirth, it's a footnote to her (relatively) blessed life, whereas Cleo bears full responsibility for Sofia’s children, to whom she is emotionally, as well as economically, indentured.

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