Hailed as the best picture of the year by a wide range of critics and garnering 10 Oscar nominations, Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” has a lot to live up to.
The film, which was written, produced, co-edited, shot and directed by Cuarón and stars Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira, had its wide release on Netflix, but it’s not your typical care-free Netflix film. You can’t watch “Roma” on a whim, while bored or while procrastinating homework. It’s definitely directed at a specific audience — people attuned to and interested in the technical aspects of filmmaking and videography.
“Roma” is set in Mexico City, where Cuarón was born and raised, in the early 1970s. The film follows a family much like Cuarón’s, composed of a mother, a father and four young children.
More specifically, though, it focuses on the life of Cleo, one of the family’s maids. Viewers see a different side of the typical drama of a rich family with an absent father. “Roma” looks instead at life through the eyes of the domestic laborers in the wealthy family’s home and reveals how the lives of Cleo and the family — equally susceptible to tragedy and hardship — are more similar than the family’s parents might like to admit.
While the overall story is captivating, and at times heart-wrenching, the plot is dragged out very slowly over the 2 hours and 15 minutes of the film. Most of the main events don’t happen until the last 30 minutes of the film. Aside from some impatience, the average Netflix-user can definitely still enjoy and be moved by this intense drama, even though much of the film’s praise has been about the incredible technical prowess of the work, especially in videography and sound.
Besides the fact that “Roma” is entirely in Spanish, one of the first things viewers notice is that it is in black and white. This immediately makes viewers aware of Cuarón’s emphasis on the film’s artistic elements.
Watching the movie, the black-and-white filter enhances the quality and detail of the scenes the camera captures. It ensures that viewers pay a considerable amount of attention to the film, almost unconsciously. While watching the film, I often caught myself trying to imagine what some of the scenes would look like in color, from the bustling streets of Mexico City to the Mexican countryside or the house of the family — yet another way in which I became more invested in what I was watching.
The film’s soundscape is also amazing. In the middle of watching the film, on a normal television in a normal apartment living room, I leaned over to ask my friend if there were surround-sound speakers connected to the TV. There weren’t. The surround-sound effect was nothing but the work of the sound editing coming through the speakers of an average TV.
I was amazed — it was as if activity in a scene that took place place behind the camera, off-screen, was actually happening right behind our sofa. While watching scenes taking place inside the family’s house, I would often get confused as to whether the street noises I was hearing were coming from the movie or from the other side of the wall to my left.
Although the film was enjoyable on a TV, many critics have discussed whether “Roma” should be watched on the big or small screen. One critic, Mark Kermode from the BBC, noted that the soundscape is why this movie deserves to be experienced in the cinema.
“Usually, when people say you should see something in the cinema, they mean because of the visuals,” Kermode said. “The thing that really should get you into the cinema is the soundscape.”
So, if you’re looking for a movie to casually watch with your friends to pass the time or because you can’t think of anything better to do with your Friday night, “Roma” might not be what you’re looking for. However, if you’re more of a movie-critic type who doesn’t mind black-and-white foreign films and is willing to devote over two hours to appreciating the technical and artistic elements of film in all its glory, then I recommend seeing what all the talk is about and giving “Roma” a watch.