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Ode to the Beloved Yaya, As We Call Her In the Philippines

Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón’s love letter to the women with whom, like many Filipinos, he grew up, one of many unique bonds that the Philippines and Mexico have in common


By Rica Arevalo

Before the worldwide streaming of Mexican master Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma on Netlix last month, the Directors Guild of the Philippines, Inc. (DGPI) arranged a special preview of “sure in” Oscar-runner and the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film nominated film on the big screen at Gateway ATMOS Cinema 5.  There is no greater pleasure for cinephiles than seeing a masterpiece projected on the big screen.

The cinema was full of film directors led by the DGPI president Paolo Villaluna and its board members Joel Lamangan, Pepe Diokno, Sari Dalena, Baby Ruth Villarama and Will Fredo.

Cuarón is best known for Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Gravity, the latter earning him an Oscar for Best Director. Before the screening, he sent a message to the Filipino filmmakers and film lovers.

Actresses Raquel Villavicencio, Meryll Soriano and Director Elwood Perez

Actresses Raquel Villavicencio, Meryll Soriano and Director Elwood Perez

“Thank you for being here at this special screening of Roma. As you probably know, your country and my country Mexico, share a unique bond. Our histories are like twins that mirror each other’s colonial past. We share a collective experience as well as a multitude of stories that encompass oppression, resistance, and independence,” he noted.

“To this day, true stories of oppression persist. But as long as they do, so will the narratives of resistance, and of humanity, courage, and our unwavering love for our freedoms—this, I believe, we also share, not just in the past but in the present and for always,” added the 57-year-old director.

Roma tells the story of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) as a loyal maid to a middle class family set in 1970s Mexico City. The family cannot live without Cleo who wakes the children up, brings them to bed at night, cleans up the two-story house, accompanies the children everywhere, washes off the dirt of the family dog, Borras, and is a witness to the marital woes of Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) and Sofia (Marina de Tavira).

The black and white film is simple and slow but has the sincerity of Cuarón’s camerawork. The details when he follows Cleo with tracking shots and frames her with sensitivity make unexpected revelations in the film. We feel Cleo’s inner struggles paralleled with her employer, Sofia’s heartbreak. Cleo falls in love with a martial artist, Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) who shows his skills in bed using a shower curtain rod. But when the “servant” tells him she might be pregnant, he leaves her inside the cinema for good.

Sofia protects her children by telling them that their father is in Canada attending a medical conference but, in truth, he has left them for a mistress. This all takes place while Mexico was experiencing a violent student demonstration and the police ganging on these youth resulting in a riot known as the Corpus Christi Massacre of June 1971.

Cuarón puts irony, too, in the 135-minute film. He shows Antonio’s first appearance in the film using extreme close ups of him carefully driving a Ford Galaxy in a tight corridor, the side mirror slightly brushing the wall. He maneuvers so as not to scratch his big car. But when he becomes absent for a long time in the household, we see Sofia driving his Galaxy and smashing it in between two vehicles, never minding the “crash,” just to get even with his unfaithful husband.

The film is a diary, a homage, and a love letter to the women whom Cuarón grew up accustomed to in his childhood.  It is a quiet portrait of a domestic family life against turmoil—both personal and political. Most film critics consider Roma as his best film to date. Roma won the Golden Lion last year at the 75th Venice International Film Festival and is now available for streaming on Netflix.



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