One of the genuinely valuable things a movie can do is to really, truly take us somewhere: whether that’s a galaxy far, far away, or, in the case of Roma, Mexico City in 1971.
Director Alfonso Cuaron shows us a world that’s as intimate as his last film, Gravity, was grand, recreating the Mexico City he grew up in through the eyes of a housekeeper named Cleo. The streets, the people, the rhythms of the city: Cuaron explores so much of this life that it’s easy to call this a love letter, but he’s said that he’s interested in showing the “deep scars in the Mexican psyche” left by that era, with its class and personal struggles, and its wide social upheaval. This all left an indelible mark on him, and he expresses his memories to us powerfully, through the love, the anger, the wonder, and the disappointment of his characters, and with extraordinary and searing black-and-white images.
Roma is distributed by Netflix, and for once I was a bit grateful for this, because I was able to pause the movie partway through and read up on the student protests in Mexico City at the time, which put earlier scenes into much richer context. But I am going to join the chorus of annoying people lamenting that we must watch Roma on our TVs, because the photography in the movie is astoundingly beautiful, and it’s so exceptionally put together that I wanted it to totally envelop me in its world. And, really, there’s almost no chance you can get that without being in a real movie theater.
And so, I did feel slightly removed from Roma, and I’m sad to say that I didn’t love it as I wanted to. But I do admire it completely: It’s a gorgeous achievement, it is one of the best movies of 2018, and while no foreign language film has ever won the Best Picture Oscar, Roma could be the movie that changes that.