Abstract
This article argues that some of the strongest visual and symbolic elements that glue Roma together is the use of fluids as metaphors of racial and class division in 1970s Mexico, as well as the site in which the characters find their common humanity and reveal their inner states. Roma is both a film about common humanity despite class and race, and about how engrained inequalities in the Mexican ethos allow the State to exercise biopolitics (the modulation of life in Foucauldian thought) and severe necropolitics, the mechanics in which the State protects the lives of some by justifying the deaths of others. Through a visual analysis of key scenes in Alfonso Cuarón’s film, the author reveals key socio-political contradictions in contemporary Mexico, which are revealed by this highly personal cinematic memoir.

The deeply personal Roma (2018) has been lauded as Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón’s finest work, a triumphant return to Spanish language cinema and to his hometown. In the film, the director and his team painstakingly reconstructed early 1970s Mexico City and his childhood home to tell the story of a broken bourgeois family and its in-house maid, Cleo, an indigenous migrant who experiences maternal loss when she delivers a stillborn daughter. The film, however, is unapologetically political as well, and explores the brutality of postcolonial oppression. The story is set in a juncture in which Mexico aligned with the United States and the incumbent party, the Revolutionary Institutional Party or PRI, used the armed forces to crush social movements. The country was ruled by what Nobel Prize winner, Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, called “the perfect dictatorship”. Like in other Latin American nations such as Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, in the post-war period the Mexican state apparatus used both military and paramilitary forces to silence dissent and maintain the status quo. Roma follows in the tradition of twentieth century Mexican muralism: like the triumvirate of the post-Revolution period (painters Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco), in Roma Cuarón builds a complex visual network of political, aesthetic and emotional threads that speaks of Mexico’s postcolonial woes.

Shot in pristine black and white, the film is also highly sensorial: the director lingers on the objects and sensations that inhabit his carefully reconstructed world. It is in the coming together of the emotional, the political and the affective that this Netflix production stands out. The film opens and closes with waves and bubble-infested foam. In the opening credits, Cleo, the domestic worker masterfully played by newcomer non-actor Yalitzia Aparicio (of Mixteco indigenous origin), mops the house’s central patio, an architectural feature common in Mexican homes, much influenced by Spanish-Moorish architecture. This material feature is also an echo of Mexico City’s colonial identity. The patio or central courtyard becomes the epicentre of family life and of the film’s materialization of personal memories. In his review of the film, Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers also highlights the complex ideas communicated through this seemingly banal shot: “From the opening scene of Cleo scrubbing the driveway, the sudsy water reflecting a jet flying overhead, the film suggests how global events intrude on this not-so-idyllic household” 1. Even though she shares deep emotional connections with the patrones (her employers), Cleo performs hard domestic tasks that challenge her dignity, such as cleaning up the faeces and pee that the family’s dog leaves behind. She also washes the dishes and does the laundry by hand, and Cuarón shows these processes in excruciating detail, highlighting how arduous paid domestic labour is.

The film works as an affective machine. Like Proust’s proverbial madeleine in In Search of Lost Time, the sights and sounds of Roma are a feast of nostalgic triggers. Roma looks and sounds like Mexico City, as any native chilango 2 would attest. As a high-pitched whistle is heard announcing that the knife sharpener is nearby, characters speak in Spanish and Mixteco, an indigenous language commonly heard in the Mexican capital, a megalopolis that features both immense wealth and inhumane precarity. Visually, the film is populated with dualities that encapsulate the many contradictions of contemporary Mexico. 3 Roma’s Mexico is a country still immersed in colonial dynamics of haves and have-nots, the living and the dead. These dualities are materialised through contrasting imagery that pins the mestizo and the indigenous against each other.

In this article I argue that one of the strongest visual and symbolic elements that glue Roma discursively together is the use of fluids as metaphors of racial and class division, as well as the site in which the characters find their common humanity and reveal their inner states. By describing how vital fluids move action forward in the film, we can also explore the power dynamics at hand. The hegemonic powers that decide how water and blood flow have a final say on life and death.

Roma is both a film about common humanity despite class and race, and about how engrained inequalities in the Mexican ethos allow the State to exercise biopolitics (the modulation of life in Foucauldian thought) and severe necropolitics. Necropolitics are what Melissa Wright, following Foucault and postcolonial theorist Achille Mbembe and in the context of Mexico’s current wave of violence, has explained as the mechanics in which “governments protect the lives of some by justifying the deaths of others”. 4 In necropolitical practices, Wright argues, women (like Cleo) are particularly vulnerable: “As the proliferation of gendered violence around the world indicates, this kind of violence is constitutive of necropolitics: the politics of death and the politics of gender go hand in hand”. 5 In what follows, I lay out Roma’s political backbone and then break down key uses of fluids as a materialization of everyday necropolitical practices.

Deciphering Roma’s socio-politics

Roma begs analysis right from its title. It is a film haunted not only by Cuarón’s childhood memories from a tumultuous year that saw his parents’ marriage break apart, but also by cinematic memory at large. The title may not only reference the director’s childhood neighbourhood of La Roma, but also Roberto Rosellini’s Roma città aperta (Rome, Open City,1945), particularly as it pins personal tragedy against the larger backdrop of political and social history. Just as Rosellini dealt with Italian identity after the horrors of World War II (a historical period that defined necropolitics), Cuarón captures a moment of tense calm in Mexico City’s political history, merely three years after the 1968 student massacre in Tlatelolco, in which the army violently crushed a protest movement in the eve of the Olympic Games. 6

The connection to Rosellini’s Rome, Open City extends to stylistic influence. In fact, Roma is a distant echo of post-war Italian neorealism, with Federico Fellini’s theatricality, nostalgia and humour in La Strada (1954) and Amarcord (1973) also coming to mind. 7 Cuarón also delves into the social inequalities that Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel explored in his seminal work Los olvidados (The Young and the Damned, 1950) which is about disadvantaged youth in the early years of Mexico City’s trepid and unruly expansion, the birth of necropolitics in the capital.

The film’s connections to Italian neorealism and Buñuel’s Mexican period hint at its politics. Roma highlights the opposing identities of indigeneity and Mexico City’s white middle-class, known as whitexicans in contemporary popular vernacular. 8 This racial and class division has permeated social life and necropolitical policies in Mexico since colonial times. The New Spain followed a strict caste system in which Europeans were up the top and mixed-race people and Indigenous people were kept down the bottom 9. Cleo comes from the state of Oaxaca, one of the most impoverished areas in the country, but also one of the richest when it comes to indigenous insurgency against colonial and then postcolonial white domination, epitomised today by corporations that seek to extract natural resources and profit from tourism. The whitexican class, on the other hand, sits in a cultural limbo between US popular culture and a new cosmopolitan Mexico City identity emblazoned by the ideals of technological progress, nationalism and modernity, ideas that the director approached in his debut film Solo con tu pareja (Love in the Time of Hysteria, 1991).

The racial politics of the 1970’s described in Roma are still present today, which helps the film communicate to contemporary audiences in Mexico and other postcolonial societies. The discrimination of the indigenous population in Mexico is nothing short of vexing given the demographical composition of Mexican society. More than 11 million people are identified as purely indigenous (more than 10% of the population), and in states like Yucatán indigenous individuals surpass 50% of the total population 10. Most of the population, moreover, has a mixed indigenous/European background and are identified as mestizo. Even though Mexicans do share a proud and nostalgic view of pre-Columbine civilizations like the Aztec and the Maya, a view that has been key in building a national identity (an concepy the director toyed with in his semi-autobiographical Y tu mamá también), racism is a complex and engrained cultural trait, as Fortes De Leff acknowledges:

In spite of strong genetic hybridization, most racist feelings in Mexico have their source in differentiation from the Indians, who became the symbol of the uncultured, the savage, the “other.” However, the indigenous peoples were the ancient inhabitants of these territories when conquered by the Spaniards. Spanish colonization started a process of domination that has since become a symbolic organizer that underlies feelings and attitudes of racism, discrimination, and segregation that have been internalized in the minds of Mexicans for generations. 11

The director’s preoccupation with racial and class ruptures in Mexican society also date back to Y tu mamá también, in which, Emily Hind argues, “The notion of interior colonization means to suggest that Mexicans organize themselves according to strict hierarchies without visible external pressures and that this social organization corresponds to general benevolence toward U.S. culture and often disdain for aspects of native Mexican culture”. 12. In Roma, Cuarón weaves together an intricate set of visual elements that help him materialise these oppositions between the rich postcolonial elite and the original owners of the land, many of whom have migrated to Mexico City escaping violence and lack of opportunities in the abandoned countryside.

For example, in an early scene one of the kids Cleo looks after is wearing an elaborate astronaut costume. Further down the film, when Cleo visits the slums in the outskirts of Mexico City, we see a child running around with a bucket on his head, a makeshift astronaut helmet. One country is host to grossly different realities: privilege meets misery as the government promises progress for all, as shown in the political propaganda that populates the film. Dualities adorn the film like a set of opposing mirrors. Throughout the movie we also see various aircraft crossing the skies, a reminder of how official State discourse spoke of the entry of Mexico into the “First World” 13, while on the ground social unrest, US interventionism and class struggle ran rampant. Cuarón’s Mexico City is much less complex and chaotic than the megalopolis it is today in part due to unorganised urban growth that has led to the formation of marginalised belts of misery, 14 one of which, Ciudad Neza, is shown in Roma.

Cleo washes clothes by hand.

Doing the dishes, the rhythm of the everyday.

Necropolitics and inner states materialised: the fluids that run through Roma

Fluids of different kinds are used in Roma to materialize necropolitical practices and the characters’ inner states. The use of fluids as metaphor is not unprecedented in cinema, of course. 15 McKenzie Wark, for instance, describes how Australian director George Miller used blood, human breastmilk, water and petrol to construct the social structures of his dystopian Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). 16 It is pertinent to note that Miller’s film deals directly with Australian identity in the same way that Roma puts a mirror in front of Mexican contemporary idiosyncrasy. The social structures and affective states of Roma flow in water, milk, semen, alcohol, blood and amniotic fluid. Fluids permeate both human relations and the relations between citizens and a necropolitical State apparatus that determines who bleeds, who lives and who has access to drinking water through cruel policies. Both on and under the surface Roma is a film in which fluids both exemplify and determine characters’ fates and establish their place in the highly hierarchical 1970s Mexico City.

Reproductive politics (a form of biopolitics) lay at the core of Roma’s dramatic structure. Even though it references his personal experiences, in Roma Cuarón has created a distinctly feminine film, an ode to the Latin American form of matriarchy. The two main male characters in Roma are absent fathers who seem to have a purely or mostly biological link to their children, the precarious link of semen. In Roma’s gender dynamics adult males are simply seed-planters, while women are carriers of fecundity and the purveyors of emotional support. Women are mothers, doctors and providers. The adult men (the patriarch Antonio, played by Fernando Grediaga, and Cleo’s sexual partner Fermín, played by Jorge Antonio Guerrero) are mere ejaculators. Seminal fluid builds fragile bridges between men and their lovers, between men and their offspring. Fermín eventually becomes a paramilitary fighter, a direct enactor of necropolitics.

The film uses aquatic imagery to communicate the vulnerability of women, particularly indigenous domestic workers. Even in some of the film’s everyday minutiae, liquids are a catalyst for establishing power dynamics. In a key introductory scene, we see the family watching TV on the couch while Cleo sits on the floor, caressing one of the children’s hair. The patriarch wants a tea and the matriarch orders Cleo to get it, to the intense disapproval of the child. Despite being relegated to a second-class citizen status by the family and its dynamics, Cleo is in charge of modulating the various flows that keep the house clean and the family healthy. She makes orange juice, washes and cooks with motherly love. Cleo performs these chores with the determination of a Buddhist monk. Or rather, without questioning the power dynamics at hand. In many of these tasks water is used as a visual premonition of what is to come: water flows from taps and buckets, mimicking the tides that will work as backdrop for the film’s climatic scene. Later in the film Cleo experiences an earthquake while she is visiting a maternity ward, having just found out she is pregnant. As the ground shakes a piece of debris falls on an incubator, inches from a newborn. Mexico City is an aqueous metropolis: the ancient Tenochtitlán was built by the Aztecs on top of a lake, which was fully drained by the Spanish conquistadores. Each earthquake is a reminder of the city’s past as a sort of Pre-Hispanic Venice, of the weak, muddy foundations of the capital city.

Water is also used as a narrative device to give Cleo a rare moment of privacy. As a domestic worker, there is a tense balance between her private existence and her working life. In a tender but troubling moment, Cleo and her friend Adela, the family’s other in-house maid (played by non-actor Nancy García García, Yalitzia’s best friend in real life), joke about how the patrona, Sofía (Marina de Tavira), might be spying on them while they exercise at night. They turn off the light, wary of the fact that their employers could get upset at how much electricity the ‘service’ is consuming. This scene highlights Cleo and Adela’s liminal existence (and those of millions of domestic workers across the globe): they are ‘like’ part of the family, but ‘not quite’. In an atypical instant of solitude, Cleo takes a shower. On a middle shot we see her dark silhouette being covered by water, a curtain of steam emanating from this moment of everyday bliss. Cleo enjoys this personal, artificial rain, a respite in the routine comings and goings of chores and screaming children.

Cleo takes a shower, a rare private moment.

Rain and a cleansing road trip to the ocean.

Rain is one of the most used and powerful metaphors in cinema and is often used to symbolise a character’s inner struggles or a general sense of malaise or chaos. 17 Throughout Cuarón’s career we have seen him use rain as a setting for key plot moments. In his adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (1998), for example, he had the star-crossed lovers kiss under a torrential rain that blurred the screen and gave them a false sense of intimacy. Pamela Katz summarises this cathartic scene: “Here, Finn and Estella run home through the rainy streets of Manhattan, in a scene which must be dubbed Great Expectations meets The Graduate. This is followed by a scene where they finally consummate their lifelong passion in a night of wild sex. Estella leaves, and the cycle of Finn’s agony begins anew.” 18 Rain is a premonition of the existential storm to come, a dynamic he replicates in Roma two decades later.

In Roma, rain works as a cleansing force, as a purifier of trauma and loss. In a scene that brings us back to joyous representations of childhood onscreen, we see two of the children play with hail, water in its solid, miraculous state. Even if the family is experiencing turmoil and unfixable brakes, the children get back their innocence, their primal state of joy. Cleo then collects them. We see the encounter from inside the house in a clever shot through which Cuarón differentiates the space of childhood and the space of troubled adult life. Rain makes another appearance in the final act of the film as the matriarch Sofía, a mournful Cleo and the kids head to the beachside in Veracruz. The children will soon find out that their father is about to leave them. As the sea timidly appears through the windshield, we see drops falling. A symphony of little spheres, a premonition of what is to come. The trip is an act of purification, a shedding of skin, a goodbye to the ideal family that the clan never truly was. A goodbye to Cleo’s stillborn daughter.

Rain as a purifier.

The fluids of social inequality

The imagery of fluids also highlights the contrast between Mexico’s white neo-colonial elite and indigenous have-nots, those who deserve to live and those who are dispensable in a necropolitical system. In perhaps the most Fellinesque episode of the film, a group of Americans and upper-class Mexicans shoot guns. They own land, we are led to believe, unlawfully taken from peasants, just like the land taken from Cleo’s mother in her native Oaxaca. The bullets fly over a pristine pond. Like in Renoir’s The Rules of the Game (La Règle du Jeu, 1939) we are reminded of the banality of bourgeois leisure activities, on how they are a re-enactment of war. Nearby, a child dressed in full astronaut costume jumps over puddles, followed by other children and a German shepherd. The scene is bucolic, as if taken from a French Post-Impressionist painting, say Georges-Pierre Seraut’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” (1884-1886). For the rich water is a source of leisure, nothing more, and its existence is never questioned.

Water, however, has historically been used as a necropolitical weapon by Latin American postcolonial governments. Water scarcity is suffered by thousands of impoverished communities in Mexico and other parts of the Global South. When Cleo goes in search for the man who impregnated her she encounters a makeshift neighbourhood with open sewers, much like the setting of Buñuel’s aforementioned The Young and the Damned. Precariously positioned wood boards work as bridges. The contrast is stark and, I would argue, intentionally positioned. This is what Latin American precarity looks like. This is what the unfulfilled promises of progress bring. As the region’s natural resources have been pillaged for centuries since the arrival of Christopher Columbus’ vessels in 1492, water has now become a limited commodity. 19 In the slums shown in Roma thousands of migrants from inner Mexico make the outskirts of the city their home, building makeshift homes and inhabiting dusty neighborhoods that grow chaotically, oftentimes without government support.

A stream and a pretend cosmonaut; natural water as source of leisure.

Bourgeois games: shooting over the pond.

The stagnated waters of Latin American precarity.

Alcohol is also used by the director as a class differentiator. During the New Year’s Eve party hosted by a group of Americans and whitexicans, we see a shot that can be described as a still life. A baby bottle, toys and a boar’s head, along with a full ashtray, wine glasses and a bottle of alcohol, lay on a side table. This single frame tells the story of this night of contained debauchery for the rich. Meanwhile Cleo celebrates the new year in a traditional cantina, where indigenous peasants drink mezcal, pulque and the ever-present Coca-Cola, a sign of American imperialism, a necropolitical fluid. As June Nash reminds us, Coca-Cola has become both a source of exploitation and a symbol of corporate colonialism: “Today the major extraction of groundwater in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas is done by the Coca-Cola Company. The company now bottles the water and sells it throughout the world and to the people from whom it was expropriated”. 20 Cleo is offered mezcal and pulque, two traditional alcoholic drinks that are a source of cultural identity. In this table, indigenous culture and American-led imperialism coexist. Another still life representing endemic and invasive forces.

Later during the party an alarm bell can be heard in the distance and we learn that the property is being threatened by a fire. Suddenly we see rich and poor, young and old (even children, barely toddlers) try to put the fire out with buckets full of water, alcohol and adrenaline feverishly running through the veins of some. Water once again works as a dramatic trigger. This episode shares similarities, both formally and discursively, with Carlos Reygadas’ Este es mi reino, a 2010 short film in which a group of upper-class whitexicans hold a party in a rural area and set a car on fire (the short is part of the anthology film Revolución). In Roma and Este es mi reino two white directors attempt to understand the violence that lies beneath race relations in today’s Mexico. The results in both cases are literally incendiary.

Still life: milk and booze.

Mezcal, pulque, beer and the “dark waters of imperialism” a.k.a. Coca-Cola.

Waters of life and death

One of the subplots of the film sees the formation of paramilitary groups trained by US operatives and used to repress left-leaning movements. As a pregnant Cleo witnesses a terrible murder of a protestor her waters break. A stream of clear fluid trickles down from her leg and onto the ground as, nearby, dozens of protestors bleed to death. The water that exits Cleo’s body is yet another premonition of bad things to come. Rather than the announcement of a new life, of renewed hope, the fluid that flows from Cleo’s amniotic sac merges with the blood being spilled on the streets as a paramilitary group massacres students and union members. Eros and Thanatos, the waters of life and death. Part of Cuarón’s mastery as a filmmaker lies in how he intertwines personal and epic tragedies, as The New York Times critic Manohla Dargis contends: “Cuarón uses one household on one street to open up a world, working on a panoramic scale often reserved for war stories, but with the sensibility of a personal diarist. It’s an expansive, emotional portrait of life buffeted by violent forces, and a masterpiece.” 21 As Cleo rushes to the hospital we see a young woman holding the flaccid body of a dead protestor, a cruel reimagining of “The Pietà”. The image of the dead student is also reminiscent of twentieth century Mexican visual art, most notably of photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo’s “Striking Worker Murdered” from 1934. In this image, as in Cuarón’s brief glimpse into the horrors of Mexico’s “dirty war”, blood flows out of a young body, the vital fluid tracing maps of a truncated and unexplored life.

Cleo’s waters break: violence and birth, birth through violence.

A slain student lies on the ground, blood flowing.

All fluids converge in the ocean. In one of the final scenes of the film and its emotional epicentre, Cleo is at the brink of drowning in the sea, incapable of swimming but capable of motherly love. She has been left to care for the children, whom she instructs to stay near the shore. Her incapacity to swim is a class differentiator: she has never been allowed leisure. Cleo loses sight of the children and starts walking among the waves. Like the cleansing water from the opening credits, the waves come and go rhythmically. Human life is insignificant vis-à-vis the old cadence of the seas. We are led to believe that she will lose the children altogether, that in a Judaeo-Christian twist of fate she will be punished for getting pregnant and miscarrying. But she finds the children, a matriarch at last, and then their bodies blend when they reach the shore and embrace, knowing that the they will always share the bond of near-death.

The director had already used the ocean and other waterbodies as sites of characters’ transformations or climatic events. In his coming-of-age road trip Y tu mama también (2001), teenagers Julio (Gael García Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna), who come from opposing socioeconomic backgrounds, revel into questions of sex and friendship when they arrive to an undeveloped beach with Luisa (Maribel Verdú), a Spanish woman dying of cancer. The last time we see Luisa she is diving into the sea after having told Julio and Tenoch: “Life is like the surf, so give yourself away like the sea”. Earlier in the film we see Julio and Tenoch masturbating on diving boards by a pool. We then see their semen falling into the water. In Gravity (2013), the main character, a lost female astronaut, has a rebirth when her capsule crashes into the ocean after falling down from space. Just like Cleo in Roma, these characters find themselves when encountering the crushing immensity of the seas.

Stylistically, the Roma ocean scene is a continuation of the filmmaker’s propensity to use long takes in key moments of his films, which imbues them with a sense of fluidity. With cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki 22, Cuarón has developed an aesthetic in which prolonged takes allow cinematic time to be stretched and for the camera to truly inhabit cinematic space as a unique, irreplaceable gaze. These long takes, epitomised by the Roma ocean sequence, are the purest form of cinematic fluidity. As Udden describes when discussing the director’s dystopian fantasy Children of Men (2006), these long takes “become not merely the stylistic fabric of abject spectacles about the end of the human race; they become spectacles in their own right”. 23 Long takes in Cuarón’s movies have become not only his signature as an auteur, but also cinematic events within themselves. Working as his own cinematographer 24, Cuarón injects vitality into Roma’s mostly still takes with a series of long takes that see Cleo cleaning the house, running through the city and, ultimately, facing death by drowning before rescuing the children. Her children, and her own child who never was.

Roma is a complex cinematic work that merits various revisits and calls for multiple readings (formal, ethical, social, cultural). This paper is but one possible approximation to understanding how images, sounds and ideas are brought together by Cuarón and his creative team, how different types of fluids are used to construct the material reality of the film, but also to communicate its ideological and political underpinnings. 25

Cleo on the brink of death by drowning.

This article has been peer reviewed.

Endnotes:

  1. Peter Travers, “Roma Review: Alfonso Cuaron Makes His Masterpiece,” Rolling Stone, 19 November 2018, https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-reviews/roma-movie-review-758113/
  2. This word is commonly used to describe Mexico City natives.
  3. Just like, say, Diego Rivera’s “Fresco Showing the Building of a City”.
  4. Melissa W. Wright, “Necropolitics, narcopolitics, and femicide: gendered violence on the Mexico-US border,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 36.3 (2011): p. 709.
  5. Ibidem, p. 710.
  6. Jorge Fons’ Rojo Amanecer (Red Dawn, 1990) offers a claustrophobic account of the massacre, which has shaped Mexican political identity for decades.
  7. There is a clear wink to Fellini’s 8 ½ (1963). As Cleo is being rushed to the hospital by the family’s grandmother and their personal driver, they are stuck in traffic (a common feature of everyday life in Mexico City). Drivers and passengers from the nearby vehicles stare at them, much like in Guido Anselmi’s feverish nightmare. Furthermore, the scene in which paramilitary forces are being trained by a Mexican strongman/luchador reminds us of Anthony Quinn’s Zampano in La Strada.
  8. Jessica M. Vasquez, “Blurred borders for some but not ‘others’: Racialization, ‘flexible ethnicity,’ gender, and third-generation Mexican American identity,” Sociological Perspectives 53, no. 1 (2010): pp. 45-71.
  9. Mónica G Moreno Figueroa, “Distributed intensities: Whiteness, mestizaje and the logics of Mexican racism,” Ethnicities 10, no. 3 (2010): pp. 387-401
  10. Staff, “¿Cuántos indígenas viven actualmente en México?,” Milenio Digital, 9 August 2017, http://www.milenio.com/cultura/cuantos-indigenas-viven-actualmente-en-mexico
  11. Jacqueline Fortes De Leff, “Racism in Mexico: Cultural Roots and Clinical Interventions 1.” Family Process 41, no. 4 (2002): p. 619.
  12. Emily Hind, “Post-NAFTA Mexican Cinema, 1998-2002,” Studies in Latin American Popular Culture 23 (2004): p.104
  13. A contested geopolitical term that was used by Latin American technocrats in the 1970s and 1980s. I prefer the terms “Global North” or “Developed economies” but am using “First World” to echo the sentiment of the times.
  14. Adrián Guillermo Aguilar, “Peri-urbanization, illegal settlements and environmental impact in Mexico City,” Cities 25.3 (2008): pp. 133-145.
  15. Examples of the use of water and other liquids as metaphor are numerous in film history. A holistic view of these, however, is beyond the scope of this paper (we can think of Stanley Kubrick’s legendary blood tide scene in 1980’s The Shining, for example).
  16. McKenzie Wark, “Fury Road,” Public Seminar, 22 May 2015, http://www.publicseminar.org/2015/05/fury-road/#.VXGpcKy3PFr
  17. There is an extensive literature about the way that cinema captures and shows weather. See, for example: Emil Leth Meilvang, “Cinema, meteorology, and the erotics of weather,” NECSUS. European Journal of Media Studies 7, no. 1 (2018): 67-85; Kristi McKim, Cinema as Weather: Stylistic Screens and Atmospheric Change (New York: Routledge, 2013); Eduardo Urios-Aparisi, “Stormy Weather: An Intercultural Approach to the Water Metaphor in Cinema” in Embodied Metaphors in Film, Television, and Video Games, Kathrin Fahlenbrach, ed. (New York: Routledge, 2015), pp. 81-95.
  18. Pamela Katz, “Directing Dickens: Alfonso Cuaron’s Great Expectations” in Dickens on Screen, John Glavin, ed. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 99.
  19. We can witness the real-life effects of the Bolivian water crisis in Icíar Bollaín’s También la lluvia (Even the Rain, 2010), a film about the privatization of resources.
  20. June Nash, “Consuming Interests: Water, Rum, and Coca‐Cola from Ritual Propitiation to Corporate Expropriation in Highland Chiapas,” Cultural Anthropology 22.4 (2007): p. 621-639.
  21. Manohla Dargis, “Roma Review: Alfonso Cuarón’s Masterpiece of Memory,” The New York Times, 20 November 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/20/movies/roma-review.html
  22. Lubezki is a powerful artisan in Hollywood by his own right and has worked with the likes of Tim Burton in Sleepy Hollow, Terrence Malick in The Tree of Life, Knight of Cups and Song to Song, and Alejandro González Iñárritu in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and The Revenant
  23. James Udden, “Child of the Long Take: Alfonso Cuaron’s Film Aesthetics in the Shadow of Globalization,” Style 43.1 (2009): pp. 26-44.
  24. Lubezki had previous commitments that prevented him for working on the film.
  25. This article was sent to peer-reviewers before Mexican director and Cuarón’s collaborator Guillermo Del Toro released ten points concerning his reading on the film on Twitter. In this thread, he highlights the use of water imagery in the film: “1) The opening shot suggests that earth (the shit-infested ground) and heaven (the plane) are irreconcilably far even if they are joined -momentarily- and revealed, by water (the reflection). All truths in ROMA are revealed by water.” The thread can be read here: https://twitter.com/RealGDT/status/1084701184110153729

About The Author

César Albarrán-Torres is lecturer in Media and Communication at Swinburne University of Technology (Melbourne), where he teaches in Cinema and Screen Studies. He has been widely published in academic and non-academic titles as a film and literary critic, author and translator. He is the former editor of Cine PREMIERE magazine (Mexico) and the founding editor of www.cinepremiere.com.mx, the most widely read film website in the Spanish-speaking world.