ROMA, the much-anticipated valentine from Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity), tells an intimate story that uses a backdrop so wide of scale it conjures memories of some of the best work from film's grandest masters, such as Bergman (Fanny and Alexander), Fellini (Amarcord) and Truffaut (The 400 Blows). Filmed in glorious 65mm black and white, ROMA is devastatingly beautiful—joyous one moment and tragic the next—and in spite of it being a Netflix-funded production, the film must be part of the Best Picture Oscar conversation. Yes, Hollywood and particularly movie distributors and cinema owners decry Netflix's deleterious impact on movie-going, but ROMA cannot be denied. It's magnificent. It's just a shame that so many will have to see it on a home screen or (I shudder at the thought) something smaller.
Cuaron, who also wrote and edited this semi-autobiographical triumph, returned to his own middle-class roots in Mexico City's Roma district to craft what appears at first to be a simple tale of a live-in maid and the family she serves and protects. But the story evolves into something so much more. ROMA is set in the 1970s, when violent student demonstrations scarred the neighborhood; but as that political storm brews, the family's day-to-day existence remains in the eye of the hurricane. Rest assured, there is much laughter in ROMA, but Cuaron also immerses us in the family's tragedies, big and small, with equal aplomb. To that end, the story's gentility is masterful.
What remains a mystery, however, is how Netflix will negotiate ROMA's fate during the current award season. The streaming service has been the recipient of a truck load of Emmy Awards from the Television Academy, but Netflix executives clearly have their sights set on a taller Hollywood hill: the one they call Oscar. A Netflix spokeswoman told me at the Toronto International Film Festival, where ROMA had its North American premiere, that the studio would screen the film in cinemas in select cities (indeed, it has), but now that the film has officially dropped on Netflix, its fate now rests solely in the living rooms of Netflix subscribers. But I plead with you: When you do get around to seeing ROMA (and I hope that you do), turn down the lights and turn off the phone. ROMA is a film to be treasured for its grandeur. Somehow, a small screen feels like an injustice.