Roma is a 2-hour, 15-minute drama released to theaters in the US on Nov. 21, 2018. It will premiere on Netflix streaming on Dec. 14, 2018. The film was produced by Esperanto Filmoj and Participant Media, and distributed by Netflix in the US, Germany and Singapore. The movie is rated R for male frontal nudity, some disturbing images, and language. Here is our review.
Alfonso Cuarón, known for writing and directing the sci-fi thriller Gravity (for which he won two Oscars), the post-apocalyptic adventure Children of Men, and his breakthrough film Y Tu Mamá También, has delivered an epic yet intimate tale about a Oaxaca-born young woman working for a middle class family in Mexico City at the start of the 70’s.
The story is, in fact, a personal tale for Cuarón. He was raised by a nanny in Mexico City who essentially became the family’s second mother. In the film she is given the name Cleo, and played by Yalitza Aparicio, a quiet but strong character who Cuarón frames nicely in this moving portrait of her.
Her employer, Senora Sofía (played by Marina de Tavira), is not introduced as one of the core characters of the film at first, but gradually we understand her situation and how she holds the family together. Indeed, de Tavira is one of the only professionally-credited actors in the film and serves to anchor the other cast members.
The film is linear, meaning, it does not jump back in time or cut to dream sequences to tell the story. Cuarón actually created the movie the same way, not telling the actors the full story but instead letting it evolve in front of them. The approach certainly adds a level of authenticity in that we never know beforehand what life has in store. And, for the untrained actors probably enhanced their performance.
There are elements from Cuarón’s other movies that pop into this film, especially in the way he treats scenes like the Corpus Christi Massacre in Mexico City which recalls filmmaking styles used in Children of Men. There are also some elements of sci-fi that added yet another level of detail to the film (but we’ll let you discover those for yourself).
Roma can test your patience, especially if you are used to faster-paced movies that have become the norm. It spends a lot of time on single shots (especially the intro credits which seem to last a lifetime), long camera pans that are beautifully done (especially the opening scene in the home), and pauses that wait for the action to happen rather than chase it.
The story is sad yet triumphant, personal yet epic, and most of all memorable. From a martial arts training session in the middle of a dust-ridden desert, to an anxiety-filled scene in the labor and delivery section of a 1970’s hospital, Roma will have you discussing the film with friends the next day, or at least recalling some of its most visually powerful moments.
Roma is so rich with detail that the big screen is really where it should be viewed. Not that a home theater television or smaller screen won’t do it any justice, but the graininess, wide format, and black and white presentation of this film is best-served in a cinematic environment.
Roma was shot on an ALEXA 65 camera in 6k at 2.35:1 aspect ratio and mastered in 4k. When it releases to Netflix streaming it will likely be available to stream in 4k Ultra HD, but we hope Netflix will eventually release a 4k Ultra HD Blu-ray edition of this film that could advantage of 4k resolution, High Dynamic Range (HDR), and Dolby Atmos audio.
If you love cinematography and the black and white image, Roma might inspire you to pick up your own camera and start filming. There are scenes in the movie that are so complicated in terms of shot-making (like the Corpus Christi Massacre, an outdoor fire on a holiday retreat, and a dramatic scene at a hospital), but Cuarón makes them look so effortless and natural you forget they were staged.
Roma was mixed in Dolby Atmos, but unless you see it in a Dolby Atmos theater you won’t get the full effect of what the immersive format can do. However, even with basic surround sound there are some immersive moments when it sounds like someone is speaking in Spanish behind you, or a plane is actually passing over your head. In the family’s home, the main stage of Roma, the audio is mixed well enough to make you feel as if you are really there, at times as an observer but other times as if part of the family.
The only critique of the audio may be the dialogue levels of some of the children and the home’s two servants, all of them being non-actors. Their voices don’t always project, and of course it isn’t their fault, but at times hard to hear. The subtitles certainly helped to know what was being said.
Roma is a film that should be seen in theaters, and maybe it will enjoy a longer and more widespread theatrical release, but even at home the movie’s intimate and personal point-of-view should resonate on TVs, tablets and computer screens.
You can read Cuarón’s own personal take on this film posted at The Landmark Theater website page.