Oscar Nominations 2019 – FILM REVIEW: Roma (2018)

Dir: Alfonso Cuaron

Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Yalitza Aparicio), Best Supporting Actress (Marina de Tavira), Best Original Screenplay, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing.

Score: ★★★★★

Alfonso Cuaron’s back catalogue is a mixed bag in a strangely varied career, his ’91 debut Sólo con Tu Pareja, was a Mexican government funded film later rejected by said government. He followed that with much loved sleeper hit A Little Princess, a surprisingly visually arresting and well measured work for what is essentially a family film. It’s one that has lived on in the memories of those who saw it at a young age and garnered two Academy Awards at the time. From there, Cuaron fashioned a slightly ropey adaptation of Great Expectations (starring Gwyneth Paltrow), after which came Cuaron’s internationally acclaimed Y Tu Mama Tambien. Curiously after releasing such a drug and sex laden picture Cuaron was given the chance to helm the third Harry Potter outing, Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban. The first in the series not directed by the tiresome Chris Columbus, it gave the Potter series a much darker and more mature feel and probably did more than any other single film to extend the longevity of the series and make what at the time had been and could easily have continued to be total cheesefest, It transformed the franchise into something much more worthwhile, as subsequent directors had to in some way respond to Cuaron’s tonal shift. Clive Owen in Children of Men followed in one of the more political movies of the 2000s and while it was a very modern movie at the time it hasn’t aged remarkably well. Cuaron reached the top of the mountain, slightly surprisingly, in 2013 with Gravity. Gravity scooped 10 nominations winning 7 including a Best Director statuette for Cuaron. While the drama between Clooney and Bullock was mostly decent, it was the extraordinary visual effects scenes alongside clever audio and indeed silence of outer space that really pushed this one into orbit (apologies). Now for the 2019 awards season Cuaron returns with Roma. In a lot of ways it feels like the culmination of a career that was headed towards a sense of maturity it had been threatening to reveal up to this point.

Alfonso Cuaron directs Yalitza Aparicio on set.

Roma is the story of a Mexican live in housekeeper in 70s Mexico. Not only does Cleo look after the drudgery of washing clothes and the like but she is a caregiver to the family’s four children. As the marriage of the parents starts to breakdown, and Cleo experiences personal trials and tribulations, the movie slowly, gently and sparingly examines their movement through life. Much of the cast are amateurs and Cuaron’s direction is so good it’s a cut above most films that have used any inexperienced, non actors previously. The film’s star Yalitza Aparicio is a first time actress who has remarkably (but deservedly) been nominated for Best Actress. In the hands of Cuaron she has delivered a staggeringly beautiful performance and it just goes to show how having a little authenticity and integrity in your work can totally blow away superficial performances like the terrible Lady Gaga in the abhorrent A Star Is Born (another of this year’s Best Actress nominees) and elbow out other seasoned performers from gaining nominations. Cuaron regards the work as partly autobiographical, drawing on his own memories of his youth in the country and this personal touch really shines through.

Family time in Roma.

Set against a much larger backdrop of 70s Mexico (sometimes literally) seismic shifts happen in the world around Cleo, including the 1971 Corpus Christi massacre. Despite this the film is overtly small and personal at its heart, it’s slowly paced and wonderfully intimate. Perhaps Cuaron intended the large events to emphasise the personal nature of the film. If so it works. Cleo’s accidental pregnancy is a personal tsunami for her, and indeed the audience. Shot in crisp black and white, Cuaron’s exquisitely precise framing is magnificent in both its economy and grandeur. There is a sense of otherworldliness that somehow exists in the extraordinarily every day feel of the film. The two meld together as brilliantly as the personal world and wider world do in the film, thanks to Cuaron’s exceptional craftsmanship. The photography is the absolute lynchpin of the film, so it is incredibly sad that this film is seen as a Netflix film. I have always been a proponent of seeing cinema the way it was intended, in a dark room on a big screen with big clear sound. But truly Roma is lost without the big screen.

One of the many beautiful moments in Roma.

Back in 2013 I would often consider people who are not real cinema aficionados sitting down to watch Cuaron’s big award winner of that year, Gravity on TV and then seeing two little astronauts spinning around in a little box of blackness with big gaps of silence and wonder why people thought it was a great film. When in a big cinema environment, (preferably even an Imax in this case), it isn’t the central characters that spin in outer space, it’s you! Not only do you directly feel that sense of inertia visually but the audio was created so that after the huge loud blasts only a proper audio system can reproduce, the silent moments become downright deafening by contrast. Watching it on a big TV, or god forbid laptop or mobile device just isn’t going to cut it. As a concession to this, Cuaron added a collection of Hollywood dialogue in Gravity that helped make it work better for the small screen, but ultimately made it less cinematic. In fact Bullock and Clooney should have said far less, no comment on their acting abilities intended. In this respect Roma is less compromising, everything is done cinematically and the shame is most people will watch it on Netflix and wonder what the fuss is. I was lucky enough to see it on a big screen and in that context it’s a shattering experience. Despite not being a big spectacular special effects picture, almost every aspect of this small, personal, emotionally affecting film is created for a big screen. That cinematic value of a theatre presentation is embedded in the very fabric of the film, in it’s camera pans, framing, long uninterrupted shots as well as within it’s quiet, delicate but highly purposeful surround sound soundtrack. The very point of this film is to see a small life made big.

Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo.

Its Netflix home is a double edged sword. Currently Netflix are the people who are willing to pay vast sums of money where others won’t. In recent times Netflix has made hug cash outlays to secure Adam Sandler to an exclusive ongoing contract as well as notoriously buying up Martin Scorsese’s latest film The Irishman with DeNiro, Pacino and Pesci in what is Scorsese’s most expensive production of his entire career. It’s a clear message that Netflix is on the hunt for respectability, prestige and subscribers with such loss leaders. But Netflix knows this sort of outlay is untenable and as an antidote to this they have spent an exorbitant amount on their Oscar campaign to make Roma an award winner. So far it’s worked, but picking up an Oscar is the big one, and for the streaming service it would mean attracting big name talent to work with them making the company a desirable home, because you can now win an Oscar on Netflix, which would mean Netflix wouldn’t have to pay through the nose as they do currently to lure artists away from the major studios. For Roma this means a much vaster sum of money is being spent promoting what is actually an artful, independent style movie, something that would not normally happen for a film of this type. Although in some ways Netflix has stepped in to fill Harvey Weinstein’s shoes from an Oscar campaign standpoint. The problem is that whilst this will result in increased amounts of eyeball’s on Roma, those eyeballs will mostly see it via Netflix. This is damaging because on your TV Roma is good, if you are the sort of person that likes a more pared down tasteful type of film, but in the cinema it’s a truly great film. The kind that can affect even the least among your cinephile friends. In the cinema the impact is huge even for those that prefer much more commercial movies. My concern is that not only will the experience be greatly diminished for cinema buffs, but also the more casual viewer who could have had an awakening to cinema through a well publicised Oscar contender like Roma, opening their eyes to the power of the medium and helping them realise The Avengers etc isn’t the final word in movies. As it stands, they will watch via Netflix and say ‘I don’t get why this won all those awards’. If it does win then not only does it affect the pushing back of the boundaries of the art form with movie audiences at large but the prestige that these awards lends to Netflix will consign more future productions by numerous great artists of our time to this home streaming format that can never ever compete with the true, life-changing experience which theatre viewing can provide. Roma on the big screen is true cinema with some of the most emotionally affecting scenes in recent memory. On Netflix, not so much.

Join our White Wall Cinema Brighton pop up screening community now by subscribing to our mailing list via our website and get news of upcoming Brighton events: whitewallcinema.co.uk

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: