This movie is difficult. It is shot in black and white, but there is no black and white in the film. Everything is grey. That makes it a great film. So far, I think it is the best of the movies nominated this year for best Picture.
This is a movie in which dog shit plays a prominent role. I am not kidding. And that is one of the things I liked best about the film. I think there is a sly commentary there about the wealthy family for whom the main character, Cleo an indigenous domestic works. domestic.
In the opening scene we see water repeatedly sloshing over some tile. Later we realize this is being done by Cleo to clean up the dog shit in the tiny garage attached to the family house. The family dog continually confined to the garage is like Cleo constantly tied to the family. The dog has nowhere else to go to attend to business. Soon after Cleo has finished cleaning the garage Dr. Antonio the owner of the home arrives in his fancy new car and drives right over a piece of dog shit. His car is soiled but he does not know it, or he doesn’t care. Cleo will clean it up. In this way the movie is quietly launched.
It took a while for me to appreciate what was happening. I kept thinking about that dog shit. It bothered me. I think the director and writer of the film, Alfonso Cuarón intended exactly this result. The dog shit was important. I didn’t think I would ever say such a thing.
Cleo’s job is to clean up the family messes. That is a big job for this upper middle-class family. When we first see the house the main floor is immaculate and filled with books. It seems this is a highly civilized family. That is an illusion. The upper chamber is what the family is about and it is a mess. The children leave “stuff” lying around everywhere, just like the dog. Why clean it up when Cleo is there to clean it up? Some of the kids even eat hail that landed on the garage floor where the dog shits. The children play with guns, like the student revolutionaries we later see.
Dr. Antonio is frequently absent. Later his wife Sofia realizes he is having an affair. The family life is a melee, like the revolution initiated by the students. People are shot for no reason. It is morally chaotic like the house is in moral chaos. If this is the revolution, start it without me.
During the riot, Cleo’s water breaks and she takes a ride to the hospital but gets caught in a traffic jam as a result of the chaos. In the hospital there is another melee, and she delivers a still-born child. Her child is a lifeless as the the child of the revolution.
There is also a scene at the home of Sofia’s friends that again emphasizes the moral confusion. The house has dead animals, kids running around entirely unsupervised, a dog walking through the house, and ducks fornicating in the alley. There is no order. All of this is followed by a wild forest fire that people are futilely trying to put out with tiny pails of water, and puny water hoses, or even wine glasses. Children are trying to help but no professionals are in sight. One man, perhaps intoxicated or drug-crazed, stands around doing nothing to help, and oblivious, in a highly flammable coat of grasses. It is pandemonium. And not least it is moral pandemonium.
Things are not much better at with the peasants. Their party is also a melee. Fermin, Cleo’s boyfriend who impregnated her denies patrimony and runs away a second time after threatening Cleo. As if he would have anything to do with a servant!
The children go as a group to a movie Marooned, but no one is more marooned than they are. On the way they look at porn magazines in the public street. No one cares. Back at home the children fight and throw rocks inside the house. Again, the servants must clean up the mess.
More dog shit appears on the garage floor. Sofia, Dr. Antonio’s wife, drunkenly drives a new car into the narrow garage badly scraping both sides repeatedly. Is this shiny new car the real baby of the revolution? Another melee. Again she drives over dog shit. Dog shit is ubiquitous.
After everything settles down for a while, the family goes to the beach so the father can take out his stuff from the house while they are gone. Sofia, the mother, leaves the children to swim with Cleo as a life guard. But Cleo can’t swim! The mother goes to check her car instead. The car that is more important than her children. Cleo though no swimmer, magically rescues the children from drowning.
In the end, Cleo confesses she did not want her child to be born. It is all a mess. It is all dog shit. Who can clean it up? The family is marooned.