February 27, 2019

Nanny Dotes on Kids in Dysfunctional Family Drama

DEVOTED CAREGIVER: Live-in nanny and maid Cleo Gutierrez (Yalitza Aparicio), shown here with two of her young charges (Marco Graf and Daniela Demesa), hopes for a family of her own someday in “Roma,” which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Aparicio was nominated for Best Actress. (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Cleo Gutierrez (Yalitza Aparicio) is one of two live-in maids maintaining the home of Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) and Sofia (Marina de Tavira), a couple in crisis with four young children. They can afford the help, which includes a chauffeur, because he’s a prominent physician. But they also need the staff, since Antonio spends so much time supposedly attending “conferences” in Canada.

The delinquent dad explains his absence to the kids as being away on business. However, his long-suffering wife suspects that he’s just up to monkey business with his mistress, which explains why she’s not above begging him to cancel a trip. Luckily, Sofia has a shoulder to cry on in her mother, Teresa (Veronica Garcia), who lives with them, too.

Meanwhile, Cleo and her fellow nanny, Adela (Nancy Garcia), dutifully assume the bulk of the childrearing and housekeeping duties. They both hail from humble roots, being uneducated peasants of Mixtec, indigenous Mexican, heritage.

Yet, like typical young women, they do dream of someday escaping their station to start families of their own. And each has a romantic interest. Cleo’s is Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), a cousin of Adela’s boyfriend, Ramon (Jose Manuel Guerrero Mendoza).

The plot thickens the evening the two couples go on a double date to a movie theater. Against her better judgment, Cleo leaves early with Fermin, who has reserved a motel room where they share an evening of passion.

She ends up pregnant, and a moment of truth arrives when Fermin reacts badly to the news that he’s about to become a father. So, now she has to worry whether she’ll be fired when she tells Sofia that she’s having a baby.

Thus unfolds Roma, a semi-autobiographical, dysfunctional family drama written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron. Set in Mexico City in the seventies, this impressionistic saga shot in black and white more than makes up in atmosphere what it might lack in meaningful dialogue.

Kudos to Cuaron for crafting such a visually-captivating, surreal memoir of his troubled coming of age.

Excellent (****). Rated R for profanity, disturbing images, and graphic nudity. In Spanish and Mixteco with subtitles. Running time: 135 minutes. Production Companies: Esperanto Filmoj/Participant Media. Distributor: Netflix.