Three Things I Learned from Watching ‘Roma’

Roma Poster

[WARNING: Contains spoilers.]

By the time I reached my twenties, I had seen a number of Mexican films, many of them produced during the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. My favorites were those directed by the incomparable Spanish director Luis Buñuel—titles such as ‘Subida al cielo,’ ‘Ensayo de un crimen,’ and ‘Nazarín.’ Recently, I saw ‘Roma’ by Alfonso Cuarón, the talented director of ‘Y Tu Mamá También,’ ‘Children of Men,’ and ‘Gravity.’ And, like those great films of the golden age, I was thrilled to see Cuarón had decided to tell his story in black-and-white. Here is the film’s logline:

A story that chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family’s maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s.

Doesn’t sound all that compelling when you put it that way, right? Well, this film has depth, my friend. And tragedy, suffering, and love. But it is also a celebration of the everyday lives of women who must go on, no matter the obstacles. For me, three things stood out.

A Woman’s Plight Is Universal
When we first meet the maid Cleo, we see her washing down the enclosed patio of the family’s home in the city. The director starts and ends the movie with water. Water washes, it breaks—signaling birth—and it almost kills in the form of an angry ocean.

Cleo is sweet and beloved by the family. As she goes about her daily duties, her mistress Sra. Sofía is coming apart as her marriage crumbles before her eyes, her husband having decided to leave the children and her for another woman. Then, after repeated sex with her boyfriend Fermín, Cleo finds herself pregnant. When she informs him, his churlish response is, “What’s it to me?”

Unlike the heartless men in this story, the women band together. Upon learning of her condition, Sra. Sofía doesn’t hesitate to assure Cleo that everything will be fine and that she must remain with the family. As time goes on, she even sends Cleo and Sra. Sofía’s mother to the furniture store to purchase a crib.

There’s really nothing new in the situations these women find themselves in. But it’s their response to misfortune and their determination to carry on that’s so moving. Toward the end of the film, Sra. Sofía tells Cleo, “No matter what they tell you, we women are always alone.”

Violence Is Easy, Love Is Hard
‘Roma’ takes place in the early 1970s against a backdrop of violence. Protesting students are shot dead in the streets by the police. The Tlatelolco massacre, during which nearly fifty civilians were killed at the hands of the police and the army, had actually occurred in 1968. I’m curious to know whether the violence continued into the 1970s as the film suggests. What struck me most about those chaotic scenes was, one minute the cops are sitting around smoking, and the next they are firing into the crowd.

Speaking of violence, Fermín’s answer to his miserable upbringing is to better himself through martial arts. Though he has the talent and the discipline for it, he has none of the maturity. He’s still as angry as ever and, after hearing he is a father, he threatens to beat up Cleo—and her unborn child. Then later at the furniture store, he joins in the street violence, shooting the innocent.

Family Is Everything
Overall, aside from the doctor who attends Cleo at the hospital, men don’t come out looking too good in this thing. They are, for the most part, corrupt, self-centered, and brutish. In the final scenes, it’s the women and the children who are left behind to get on with their lives.

Cleo loves the family so much that, when two of the children are carried off in the waves of a turbulent sea, she goes in to rescue them, even though she cannot swim. In the end, she doesn’t have Fermín, and she doesn’t have her child. But she has the family.

And they have her.

Book Review—Twist of Faith

Twist of Faith Cover

Twist of Faith is a stunning story that turns on the eternal question, “Who Am I?” And it’s something that the heroes—if you think one of those exists in this novel—and the evildoers have in common as they go about their daily business. For me, the book reads like a madman’s dream where photographs can come alive, and the dead can speak. It’s a well-thought-out tale of intrigue and revenge—mostly revenge—that surprisingly leads to a high body count for a book that is not really a police procedural.

There’s a lot of anger in this tale, and I think the author was able to channel it in the lissome, paradoxical character of Ava. Though she defies reason, we want her. Bad. And maybe it’s the allure of danger that surrounds her. Or it could simply be that she was raised French and Catholic. Either way, watch out.

If you like the strange and mysterious, then grab this book. And you might want to crack open a nice Château Lafite Bourdeaux to put yourself in the mood.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
When family secrets are unearthed, a woman’s past can become a dangerous place to hide…

After the death of her adoptive mother, Ava Saunders comes upon a peculiar photograph, sealed and hidden away in a crawl space. The photo shows a shuttered, ramshackle house on top of a steep hill. On the back, a puzzling inscription: Destiny calls us.

Ava is certain that it’s a clue to her elusive past. Twenty-three years ago, she’d been found wrapped in a yellow blanket in the narthex of the Holy Saviour Catholic Church—and rescued—or so she’d been told. Her mother claimed there was no more to the story, so the questions of her abandonment were left unanswered. For Ava, now is the time to find the roots of her mother’s lies. It begins with the house itself—once the scene of a brutal double murder.

When Ava enlists the help of the two people closest to her, a police detective and her best friend, she fears that investigating her past could be a fatal mistake. Someone is following them there. And what’s been buried in Ava’s nightmares isn’t just a crime. It’s a holy conspiracy.

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Book Review-Marred

Marred Cover

As an author of horror thrillers, I’m no stranger to scenes of violence and mayhem. But—and I’m being honest here—the thought of writing a novel about a serial killer leaves me a little squeamish. I would imagine you would have to approach the subject with the same cold-bloodedness as your killer, unblinkingly laying out the carnage that both repulses and fascinates the reader. That kind of writing calls for a stiff drink, in my view.

But this is precisely what Sue Coletta has given us in Sage, a tortured survivor struggling with horrific memories while trying to be the loving wife to Niko, a homicide detective who has his own demons—not to mention a surly sidekick. And all of this set in a remote, beautiful town that, in any other universe, would seem tranquil.

What I like best about this author is, she knows she has a job to do and doesn’t shy away from everything that’s required to terrify the reader, at the same time creating a puzzle that requires some serious brain power. The writing is sharp, funny, and at times tender. Marred is a chilling read that will leave you wanting more, once you’ve caught your breath.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
When a serial killer breaks into the home of bestselling author, Sage Quintano, she barely escapes with her life. Her husband, Niko, a homicide detective, insists they move to rural New Hampshire, where he accepts a position as Grafton County Sheriff. Sage buries secrets from that night—secrets she swears to take to her deathbed.

Three years of anguish and painful memories pass, and a grisly murder case lands on Niko’s desk. A strange caller begins tormenting Sage—she can’t outrun the past.

When Sage’s twin sister suddenly goes missing, Sage searches Niko’s case files and discovers similarities to the Boston killer. A sadistic psychopath is preying on innocent women, marring their bodies in unspeakable ways. And now, he has her sister.

Cryptic clues. Hidden messages. Is the killer hinting at his identity? Or is he trying to lure Sage into a deadly trap to end his reign of terror with a matching set of corpses?

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Writing Horror That Appeals to Women

Photo Courtesy of Nathan O’Nions via Creative Commons
[Woman in Forest]So I want to talk about the experience I’ve had writing my horror-thriller series. Books One and Two are available now, and I recently sent the third book in the trilogy off to the editor. When I started writing about Dave Pulaski and the nightmare he awakened to in Tres Marias, a small fictional Northern California town, I didn’t set out to appeal specifically to men or women. I simply had an idea I wanted to try and set out to tell the best story I knew how.

Well, many months have passed, and I’ve noticed from a lot of the Amazon reviews that women seem to like these books. A lot. Now, I’m not trying to piss anyone off here by engaging in lame stereotypes, but frankly I was surprised. Books One and Two deal with an outbreak that’s responsible for creating a town filled with the ravening undead—a solid formula for attracting hardcore male readers. Looking back at what I wrote, I’m going to be so bold as to lay out some principles that made these stories women-friendly. And I would like nothing better than to have female readers respond, telling me that I am full of crap. Here goes …

1. The Writing Has to Be Good
This goes for male and female readers. Thanks to Amazon and others, it’s insanely easy to self-publish. And as a result, there’s a lot of drivel out there. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been sucked in by an interesting cover, only to discover that the author has published what is essentially an amateurish first draft.

I’m not saying, by any stretch of the imagination, that I am a brilliant writer. But I put a lot of work into my writing, and I do everything I can to ensure that what I end up with has been properly edited. So you can rest assure that when you pick up one of these novels, you’re going to get a professionally produced product.

2. It Has to Be about More than Horror
Okay, writing horror is fun. The genre is wide open and allows the author to go places that most literary fiction would blanch at. But stories should be about people. Things will happen, but it’s what the evil does to the characters that matters. Some will become heroes, others will hide, and still others will succumb to the evil.

My books feature all kinds of characters. And for the most part, they are flawed—especially Dave, the protagonist in this series. But that’s what it means to be human. Somehow, we must overcome our shortcomings and do something amazing in the face of Hell.

3. Redemption Is Key
Sure, there are plenty of stories out there that end with everyone dying. Those aren’t for me. I prefer to see a character go through the worst hell imaginable, then somehow survive—a changed person. Sounds like the Hero’s Journey, doesn’t it?

Look, I don’t know whether men like to read about characters who are redeemed. Hell, I don’t even know if women do. I’m going by my gut here, people. And my gut tells me that redemption is essential to any good story.

4. There Needs to Be a Love Story
In the midst of all the blood and the screaming, there is a strong undercurrent of Love in my series—the love between Dave and his wife Holly. I don’t think I would have written these books had there not been a love story. I have no idea if this element made for a grand story that is attractive to women. But I’m pretty sure that most men who read horror don’t give a rat’s tushy.

Comments, anyone?