ROMA, the much-anticipated valentine from Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity), tells a story that is so intimate yet uses a backdrop so wide of scale that 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 production, the film must be part of the Best Picture Oscar conversation.
Rodin Eckenroth Getty Images for TIFF
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 a slight tale of a live-in maid and the family that she serves and protects. The story 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 looming award season. As the streaming studio readies itself for what should be a rather successful night at this weekend's Emmy Awards, where it is certain to take home a grand haul of television trophies, Netflix has its eyes 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 indeed planned to screen the film in New York and Los Angeles theaters in order to technically qualify for an Oscar. Netflix still plans to drop ROMA onto its global streaming platform sometime in mid-December. But I caution 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 such an injustice.