Roma: Movie of the Year


The movie Roma is a beautiful hymn to women. It tells the story of Cleo, an indigenous (Mixtec) woman who works as a maid to an upper-middle-class Mexican family. She is wonderfully portrayed by Yalitza Aparicio, who had never acted before. She tends to the family and their mansion with humble dignity and loving care reminiscent of the hearth goddess Hestia. Her demeanor in the movie has been repeatedly called “stoic” by various reviewers. But she is so much more than stoic, the epithet which to me implies “in control of emotions”. What is more, the emotional depth is perhaps the most palpable, powerful feature of this compelling character.  Granted, hers is introverted emotion, devoid of grand gestures, yet flowing like a strong river below the few words that she utters throughout the whole movie. Similarly, Hestia was as an unshaken guardian of the hearth, the Goddess of Being, who quietly maintained order and stability.  Cleo embodies the qualities of love and humility; the latter word coming from Latin humus, i.e. earth. She is the rock for the troubled family, which has been abandoned by the selfish father. And she does not stop serving despite her own tragedy.

Yalitza Aparicio

The opening scene focuses on foamy water being mopped across the floor. It is a sublime symphony to the mundane, repetitive household chores, which are deemed by some as demeaning but when viewed from a spiritual perspective they are the expression of pure love and humble work which sustains life. This work is unnoticed, unappreciated and endlessly repetitive, subject to ruthless entropy.  It is often the task of the underprivileged, namely women or ethnic minorities. And yet, both Benedictine and Zen monks emphasize the necessity of working with hands as essential spiritual practice and as a way to relate and connect to the world around.


The director Alfonso Cuarón dedicated the movie to Libo, who is Liboria Rodríguez, his family’s longtime maid. By giving her the name Cleo (Greek  for pride, fame and glory) in the movie he symbolically elevates her. Fermin, her heartless macho boyfriend, tries to demean her by calling her “a servant.”  In his world her quiet power goes unappreciated. But as James Hillman observes in Kinds of Power,

“The idea of service demands surrender, a continuous attention to the Other. It feels like humiliation and servitude only when we identify with a ruling willful ego as mirror of a single dominating god.”

But god/goddess is not away from the world, as “the idea of an anima mundi (ensouled world) translates into care for things,” continues Hillman. Furthermore, in Japanese, the characters for “human being” mean “a person in between,” always related to others, interdependent with the environment. Water, which binds all, is the most powerful symbol in the movie, as pointed out by this reviewer:

“Fittingly, water is a recurrent motif – from the soapy suds of the opening credits (signalling the “woman’s work” that is never done?) to the breaking waters that prefigure a harrowing scene of unblinking sorrow, to the poignant Veracruz beach finale in which strong thematic undercurrents are given literal physical form. We see also planes reflected in that water, passing overheard, distant and unreachable, like a dream of escape.”


In his Dictionary of Symbols, Cirlot describes water as limitless and immortal; saying that “the waters are the beginning and the end of all things on earth.” Water powerfully mediates between life and death; the Babylonians called it “the home of wisdom.” For me, the movie provided a cathartic (from Greek kathairein  – to cleanse) emotional release; it is both heartbreaking and uplifting, a real stroke of genius.

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21 Responses to Roma: Movie of the Year

  1. litebeing says:

    Thanks for this insightful review. I had not heard of this film before, but now it has my attention! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for writing and sharing your inspiring review of Roma! I’m truly inspired to watch it! I sense it’ll be the perfect movie for tomorrow night! Warm and wild Solstice blessings, Deborah.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. From your lovely recommendation the film sounds well worth watching. Not being on Netflix does have its disadvantages.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A beautiful review! I will be watching this for sure now. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. rolandclarke says:

    A wonderful review. For me, water is powerful and linked to emotional depth..

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jeff Japp says:

    Hi Monika. My wife and I were just discussing this film this morning. I am going to hold off reading your review until after we watch it, which will likely be this weekend. Hope you are having a blessed Solstice and may you and your family have a wonderful 2019.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Phillyguy says:

    I noticed the airplane in the beginning and ending scenes. To me, it suggested a cycle, the end becomes the beginning, continuing on and on.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Caroline says:

    Thank you for such a beautiful review. I watched it this morning. It was very emotional, as it reminded me of my childhood growing up in South America.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Leslie says:

    Thank you for your review. I watched Roma this morning, not really knowing what to expect. I enjoyed it and immediately wanted to learn more about it. Your review was insightful. It makes me want to see other movies directed by Cuaron, as I learned this movie is a tribute to the women who raised him. It was beautifully done. The symbolism, love and beauty in Latino film making is a very special thing. It’s couples well with the time period. It seemed symbolic and I wanted to get more insight your review really helps. I was focused on the airplanes for some reason one appears in the middle of the movie two there is a plane in the sky when Cleo goes looking for Fermin. It’s flying overhead and behind the costumed trainer’s Head as he holds mountain pose. But, your emphasis on the water symbolism is dead on. It ties to the spirituality of the movie as well. Really enjoyed your review thank you will seek out more. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Leslie says:

      Please excuse typos – *Fermin, *too, and others – I wrote/voice texted quickly without proofing before posting. Loved the movie and your review. Movies like this one are fun to talk about. I was born in 1970, so I feel Cuaron captured childhood in that era, and the“morality of the times” well, also. I grew up in Louisiana and related to the women and children living in Mexico in the movie because I identified with that period and how he captured it. The airplane symbolism was a part of that for me. I see both the dream of escape and the cyclical implications. I think they are a symbol of hope and of a time that was rapidly changing in pace – women’s rights and roles were changing, they were being redefined – somehow the airplanes symbolize those changes too.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much, Leslie. Your comment means a lot to me. I noticed the planes too – I agree with your take and I also think that they add a spiritual dimension, God’s eye if you will but also they suggest liberation, rising above one’s circumstances. Such a rich movie – I am sure I missed a lot of other symbolism.


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