Alfonso Cuarón Gets Personal With ROMA

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By Richard Gonzalez

His most personal film to date, Roma is director Alfonso Cuarón’s visual love letter to a Mexico not traditionally seen in cinema. The film will be released on December 14th on Netflix and is one of the streaming service’s most ambitious efforts to date. Seen as a potential “Best Picture” nominee, Roma’s release has been problematic, with issues revolving around the requirement that it have a theatrical release to be eligible for awards season. This has led to a contentious limited theatrical release and a strained relationship between theaters and Netflix.

Many critics contend that the film should be seen in theaters to truly encapsulate the manner it was meant to be seen, a notion echoed by Cuarón. The film’s release on Netflix, however, allows it to reach the biggest audience possible, an experiment that breaks from the typical "arthouse" release. If you live in a city that is screening Roma, we highly suggest doing so, as screenings continue through December 20th.

Set in the 1970s, Roma provides an intimate look into the lives of an affluent family in the Colonia Roma borough of Mexico City. The film slowly immerses viewers into the lives of the family and their housekeeper, Cleo. Roma was shot in black and white, and shows a version of Mexico contrasting that which is traditionally seen in mainstream cinema, all orange hues and riddled with violence.

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Cuarón chose to dive into his childhood and pay tribute to the woman who helped care for him and his siblings. In real life, the woman was Liboria Rodríguez, known as "Libo," and Cuarón fondly recalls spending countless hours with her as she cooked for the family and told stories of her upbringing in a small village in Oaxaca. In Cleo, actress Yalitza Aparicio embodies the character as a gentle soul who grapples with the pressure and hardships of her place in the world, but does so with underlying grace.

This is the most beautiful part of the film, which celebrates working people who take the most difficult jobs, and sheds a spotlight on their humanity. The film is quiet at times, and as an audience, we are trained to have expectations as to where the plot is going, and that is where Roma shines. It doesn't take you where you think you are going, and as time progresses, you find yourself fully invested not only in all the characters but the setting.

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The landscape of Mexico plays a considerable part in the film, as we not only get to see the neighborhood that is the namesake of the film, but the lush beaches and countrysides. The viewer gains insight into the cultures and traditions that are part of these places. Residents of Mexico have noticed this, and over the last few weeks more screenings have been added, with shows selling out at a rapid rate.

It will be interesting to see what the response will be to the film’s Netflix release, since the streaming giant is not transparent about just how many people stream its content. It is an experiment in what the future holds and how directors will collaborate with streaming services on a grander scale. Until then, you can do your part as a participant and enjoy a beautiful film at the same time. Roma is streaming on Netflix now.