Between the deaths of that raccoon from Guardians of the Galaxy and Liam Neeson’s career, it’s been a weird couple of weeks in movieland. But weirdest of all? A Netflix film is a frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar. And if that happens, Roma would be the first foreign-language feature to win the award. Unless you count The Artist. Or Rocky.
Written, directed, produced, shot and co-edited by Alfonso Cuarón, this semi-autobiographical drama follows Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) who works as a maid for a wealthy family in Mexico City. Systematically ignored for her class and ethnicity, Cleo is given voice by the film as Cuarón beautifully highlights the disparity between her problems and that of the middle-class family she lives with.
The film has much to say about race, class and gender, and does so in gorgeous black and white; you could freeze any single frame and hang the picture on your wall – with the exception of one harrowing episode that recalls Cuarón’s Children of Men. There are also echoes of his Oscar-sweeping Gravity in the movie’s maternal fears, while a scene in which the children watch Marooned at the cinema hints at Cuarón’s inspiration for the Sandra Bullock flick.
Roma manages to be both expansive and intimate; Cuarón captures impossibly elaborate sequences in his trademark long takes without losing sight of the people at the heart of the drama. The sound design too is technically brilliant, from the Altmanesque natural dialogue to the diegetic music and ambient noise. Even the children’s performances appear as organic as the tenderly drawn relationship between them and Cleo.
More subtle than the Mexican storyline in Babel and more ambitious than Cold War, Roma will be remembered with or without the Oscar – if just for marking the moment Netflix executives finally removed their blindfolds.