In case you missed it, this year’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film (as well as two other Oscars, plus multiple accolades from the Golden Globes and other festivals) was Roma. Even though its initial release on Netflix and the awards buzz are now long past, Roma is still well worth watching.
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, Roma’s distribution by Netflix made this film a part of the recent trend of high-level cinematic productions debuted on streaming websites rather than in cinemas. Here are just some of the good reasons to watch Roma this summer, if you haven’t already.
A unique and true-to-life viewing experience
Set in the 1970s, in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City, this semi-autobiographical story is both of its time and utterly timeless. It was filmed in black and white and shot sequentially, so the actors were fully engaged in each scene and unaware of what was to follow. Also striking, Roma has no musical soundtrack; instead, it immerses viewers in the natural sounds of the surrounding city, countryside, and seaside.
The film centers on Cleo, an indigenous domestic worker, whose relationship with the children she cares for is exquisitely rendered. Her romantic life serves as a backdrop to this, contextualizing and deepening her loving, yet complicated, relationship with these children. Their mother, Sophia, adds to the plotline as we watch her marriage devolve. This storyline is told to us as gently as to the children. Though not let in on the details, we gradually piece together what’s happening. This makes the film both compelling and realistic. You experience Roma the way you experience life: the rising action, climax, and falling action aren’t clear as you’re living them; critical moments are recognized only in retrospect.
Appreciating the gifts of women
Netflix describes the film as Cuarón’s "artful love letter to the women who raised him,” and it is truly a thought-provoking love-saturated treatment of womanhood. I have always appreciated stories that show, not tell, the messages they’re trying to convey. This movie does just that.
While some have noticed the film lacks redeeming male characters, it’s fair to say the film captures the experience of what it’s like being raised without active male role models—a phenomenon too real for many people. Within that context, Roma compellingly captures the challenges and struggles of womanhood in a powerful way.
Roma does not soapbox; it does not offer reductive depictions of complex problems; it does not “say” things about modern society, about racial tensions, about marriage troubles, about the power of women. Instead, it simply shows us the loving, imperfect, resilient ways in which these women struggle to function as individuals, as lovers, as mothers, and as humans caught in complicated personal and social situations.
Micro and macro relevance
The story is simple and rendered with minimalist-realism as personal lives intersect with historical conflicts and tensions, among them, the Corpus Christi student massacre of 1971. This interplay between particular and universal concerns is one thing that makes the movie great. It is saturated with the particulars of the decade: the city, the neighborhood, the lives of several women—and this gives it access to universal qualities of human experience.
Franz Kafka (author of such famous short stories as The Metamorphosis) said that the job of art is not the solution, but rather the proper presentation of the problem. Art is easily politicized, made a propaganda tool functioning in stereotypes and painting in overly broad strokes. Movies are particularly susceptible to this because of the way they engage the emotions of the audience. They often speak to of-the-moment concerns rather than to universal aspects of human existence. But movies like Roma return the genre to the best aspect of its aesthetic dimension and offer us glimpses into the mysteries of the human heart that unite us despite differences in gender, race, or historical period.
I found Roma to be both one of the most beautiful and understatedly female-empowering films I’ve seen in a while. In telling a simple human story, Roma produces something truly timeless and deeply meaningful.