3 Problems My Parents Had With ‘Roma’

Not even Alfonso Cuarón’s ‘Roma’ is immune of one’s parents' pointed criticisms.

For the record, I loved Roma. It’s hands down one of the best films of the year - a heartfelt love-letter by Alfonso Cuarón to the neighborhood he grew up in and the family he still honors. Its cinematography (which you can read about here in a discussion between Cuarón and his longtime friend and collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki) is beautiful and features some of the most powerful sequences of the year.

In fact, here are our No Film School selections for scenes of the year.

However, for every filmmaker and film-fan home for the holidays, it appears that not even Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma is safe from the criticism of parents. While I will caveat that I love my parents and grant them the right to their opinions (some of which more founded than others), I will say that if anything, Roma is a great film to spark a lively filmmaking discussion with loved ones over the holidays.

The Slow-Paced Opening

The “problems” with Roma start immediately. Without giving away anything of note, the film opens with one long take that begins with the camera looking down at bricks of concrete. This shot remains static, in black and white, and lasts several minutes as viewers are asked to patiently wait for cinematic clues to develop. It’s a powerful opening, but perhaps better fit for watching in a theater as it caused my parents to both check their phones, re-fill their wine in the kitchen, and bring up long-winded news about the nephews before the shot finally ends.

The Unrealistic Household

In an odd piece of criticism, my parents also had big issues with the house in the film. While Cuarón does a fabulous job of creating a living, breathing household that gives both great spatial awareness and life to its setting, it was also a point of contention for its unrealistic dirtiness. “Why don’t they just pick up the dog poop?” my mom asked several times, quick to point out that they don’t have any live-in maids but are sure to comb the backyard at least once a day for the dog’s “land mines”.

The Morality of Roma

Now, if any criticism is landed though, it is some nuanced issues with the film’s morality and characters. It’s hard to criticize a film based on real life for the events it portrays in the story, but as more time passes to examine it, the characters and the lessons they learn become a little more suspect. Namely, my parents took issue with how Cleo - the housekeeping protagonist - ended her narrative character arc with the realization that she “didn’t need a family of her own, because she already had the Sofía household to take care of.”

I’d argue that Cleo’s journey was much greater than its summation with the beach hug at the end, but it is interesting to look at how - for many viewers - a film is only as good as its morality and the lessons taught within.

For anyone else watching movies with your families over the holidays - and if you aren’t watching Die Hard for the 50th time, which IS A CHRISTMAS movie - would be curious on your thoughts on Roma and how others in your life reacted to it as well.     

Your Comment

10 Comments

Why not educate them a bit about being open to what a cinematic experience can also be other than a fast pace passive experience. Talk about the space for stretching reality's metaphorical and narrative qualities for stories to become cinematic in the case of the dog shit / also if things don't match your expectations of reality that doesn't mean its unrealistic. My mom and I would finish films, and conversation used to be about "I didn't like the ending" or "why did this happen to this person" or "what was the lesson here?". We talked through these things (it took time and caring) and now she also sees films a bit more as a world to be emerged in and appreciate as such. Not a morality lesson, but a journey, a way of seeing and entering complex characters and situations. I've heard Cuaron describe this film in particular as he would describe life, "nothing but a shared experience of moments", not a Bible's study group or a morality trip. It just wasn't conceived like that. I told my mom, beforehand and we have been developing this type of a relationship with cinema together cause I want her to be able to appreciate my work in the future, to focus and appreciate other aspects, to enjoy and engage in feeling with the film, to pay attention to sound among other things and stop trying to figure out or compile a film into what is trying to say or not say. We all learn how to appreciate different aspects of life be it food, literature, engineering, poetry or whatever discipline, by paying attention to the ways we engage with these things. This idea of a passive viewer waiting for a lesson to be taught is saturated at this point and a very limiting experience in regards to what cinema has to offer, they are missing out on so much if that's their focus. Also, my mom was a child at the historical period of the film, she was reminded of the bed she used to sleep in, one very similar to the children's bed, she was singing some of the songs, and she enjoyed those moments too.

December 23, 2018 at 12:51PM, Edited December 23, 12:51PM

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Jorge Silen
Director
81

Well said.
Instead of writing an article about the merits and beauty of this film,
the writer showed ,not just his parents, but too many who don't know how to talk about a film with any depth.
I once wrote an article about how I can't trust anyone's opinion of a film, if they've watched it at home, instead of a cinema, and that includes myself.
There is no way anyone has the same focus, we easily get distracted, half watch the film, at the same time ,checking facebook, computer, seeing things that need to be done in the house,etc.
As opposed to the cinema, where it's dark, all the energy of every person in there is focused on the film.
That is a topic that should be talked about more.
As when I read reviews on films, many times I can tell the've watched it on a dvd.
Especially when they say it's too slow moving,etc.
Quite a sophomoric article

December 23, 2018 at 8:44PM

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martin woyzeck
Actor, writer, acting teacher/coach
198

I wrote this for The Hollywood Reporter in YouTube.
https://youtu.be/zquPaLZEPu8

Believe me, you will have an indescribable experience, feeling, when you see the shot that Cuarón is explaining. Because in that moment you comprehend the reason of why he had to do this movie. It's a personal moment where he puts together the love of the humanity in one single shot. But it's still his moment, and unintentionally, he puts all of us there.

My face deformed and I started to cry, and cry, because I was watching something beyond beautiful. The composition of the shot is absolutely... pure. The direction, the performances, the photography, all this conjugated to serve to Cuarón memories.
This film will stay in my heart for the rest of my life.

December 23, 2018 at 1:09PM

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The Slow-Paced Opening: The opening scene is trying to tell you the kind of film Roma is going to be. While in the foreground is developing the activity of washing the porch, in the background are the sounds of the city, the sorroundings of that little world (birds, a dog barking, street vendors outside). The sounds of water being agitated, an airplane reflected in the water crossing the frame (which gonna be a motive in the entire film). Cuarón wants you to start to get use to the immersive experience. You start watching the action hovering from above and then, after the opening credits disappear, the camera turns to be parallel to the ground. We, as the camera are, a ghost from the present observing the past. Notes: Those are not "bricks of concrete" but a tile floor. Conclusion: You're parents are not patient viewers or they just love wine more than cinema.
The Unrealistic Household: Well, Cleo and Adela are live-in maids. If you parents noticed they sleep in a room upstairs next to the main house. I'm pretty sure in the opening scene (which your parents missed) Cleo is cleaning up the porch because there was a bunch of those "land mines". The interesting thing is how pointless picking-up dog poop throughout the day really is. 'Cause if they noticed, when Cleo comes to the house after picking-up Pepe from the kindergarden, the dog had already pooped. Maybe they just clean up the porch once a day. Their responsability is to be focused on tending the children and the parents and make sure the interior of the house is impeccable. Notes: "unrealistic dirtiness." I think this term is really vague. Conclusion: This kind of "problems" with the movie, shouldn't exist while criticizing a film. It's a feature within the development of the story but not a flaw for the film.
The Morality of Roma: "my parents took issue with how Cleo - the housekeeping protagonist - ended her narrative character arc with the realization that she “didn’t need a family of her own, because she already had the Sofía household to take care of.” This statement is completely wrong. The development of the movie and the way is filmed is to be distant, Cuarón wants the perspective of the film to remain undjudged. The narrative arc for cleo is to confess that she didn't want her baby to be born, which is something problematic for women in the mexican society back then and right now, to say that they don't want kids for many reasons; for Cleo it was that she's all by herself, not support and no recognizition by the father of the baby, she dedicates all day long to serve other people, when she's gonna have some time for her child? For many women like Cleo in México, they accept the family they serve as a second family because maybe their situation is better that the one they would have back in the town where they grew up with a lot of shortage. So, It's something we don't have to criticize the film for, it's something very common for people like Cleo in México, sometimes is better for them not to have family of their own while there are no chances to offer their children a better living. But that's something that Roma doesn't make a judgement about, but it shows us that these things happens all the time. Conclusion: Your parents have to separate between criticizing the story and criticizing the film. And they need to be open to other life perspectives within different cultures.

December 23, 2018 at 1:59PM

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What a ridiculous article, with zero meaning to it.
What was the point of the article.
To show that your parents have A.D.D..
That this is the problem whenever someone watches a film at home,and gets easily distracted. Is that the fault of the film?
That people nowadays do not have critical thinking. Do not know how to discuss a film in depth. To go further than surface points of the film. To see the methaphors,etc.
What was the point of this article???????????

December 23, 2018 at 8:39PM, Edited December 23, 8:39PM

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martin woyzeck
Actor, writer, acting teacher/coach
198

No offense to your parents, but they're "problems" with this movie are pretty ridiculous. If not, utterly laughable.

December 24, 2018 at 12:22AM, Edited December 24, 12:22AM

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Their****
Man, what was I smoking that day?

December 27, 2018 at 11:38AM

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I found your article interesting. First of all that your parents went to reflill their glass of wine, I can tell you that's the reason why I recomend to see the films on a theater and not on TV. I don't know where do you use to watch your films.
There are a lot of nuances on the film that you just would be able to understand if you lived in Mexico in these time. One is the dog's excrement which are lying on the floor or that the father comes and sounds the claxon in order that somebody opens for him the door. These issues now a day unbelievable were the normality at that time and I understand why your Mom was sort of scandaliced about it. But these little issues give the film a lot of autenticity
I loved the film and not because I'm mexican too this is one of the finest films that I've seen in my life because of it's aestethic, because of the actors and because of the story itself.
I found your article interesting because as usual and I'm glad so is not all the people found this film as wonderful as I did and it's interesting to see why.
I hope if you have not done it that you see the film on a theater and see the difference

December 24, 2018 at 1:29AM

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Samuel Lechuga
Movie Fan
74

Although I believe this movie was aesthetically beautiful and had excellent cinematography, I had a serious problem with the story. But first a little background. I grew up in the capital of Guatemala city in a middle class neighborhood very much like the one portrayed in the film. The shape of the houses, the sounds, and the sights of this movie sparked long-forgotten memories of my childhood.
My Hispanic family was more fair-skinned and had fewer "indigenous" features than the domestics, who always were indigenous women from the countryside and rural areas with very little education and who were desperate for work in order to help support families back in their villages. And like the family portrayed in the movie, our domestics cooked for us, washed our clothes, and were generally in charge of most of the household chores.
And what I remember from my own experience (and that of other families who also had domestics) is that they were definitely NOT treated as a member of the family. On the contrary, they were to "keep their place", they were forced to eat their meals in a room separate from the rest of the family, forced to sleep in the "servants" room which also functioned as the storage room which was often small and dilapitated (it was the servants room, why bother painting it). I remember once when we had two servants, one did not have a bed so she had to sleep on the hard ground on a straw-mat "tapete". And I can go on. So if the director had a different experience than I did (and what is generally known to occur in these types of arrangements in Latin America) I am certain it was an exception but definitely not the rule where Native American female domestics have historically suffered sexual abuse, economic exploitation, and other injustices by the Mestizo patrones.

December 24, 2018 at 9:55PM, Edited December 24, 10:33PM

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These articles are trash. Who cares??

December 27, 2018 at 4:18PM

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Genghis Khak
Video Editor
74