I saw “Roma” in a sold out 3:20 p.m. showing at the IFC Theater in New York City and was floored by the film. However, most of those who see writer/director Alfonso Cuarón’s newest masterpiece will not see it in a theater, but instead stream it on Netflix.
Why was I able to see the Netflix masterpiece in theaters? Well, Netflix really wants an Oscar and is willing to go against their entire business model to get one.
This winter, Netflix will have a limited release of three films in theaters in order to qualify for the Academy Awards. These films are “Outlaw King” (bad), “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” (very good), and the focus of this review: “Roma.”
In terms of profit, the idea of releasing movies “exclusive” to Netflix in a theater, where non-subscribers can go and see them, seems like an outright nonsensical move. However, Netflix’s goal is larger than short-term gains in profit. If they want to be taken seriously as a movie studio, they need to gain some amount of traditional prestige, and the fastest way to do that is to win an Oscar.
This poses an interesting choice to viewers: They can see a film for free in the comfort of their own home, provided that they have access to a Netflix account, or they can pay to see the film the way the filmmaker intended — in a theater.
As interesting as the discussion of Netflix films and the future of theatrical releases is, the most important facet of the movie business remains the films themselves, and “Roma” is, above all else, a truly exceptional film. It is a technical marvel that creates genuine awe and beautiful empathy throughout its entirety.
“Roma” tells the story of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a live-in housekeeper of an upper middle-class family, who struggles with an unplanned pregnancy, against the backdrop of a rising fascist movement in Mexico City in 1970s. Cuarón’s use of Spanish and grounded storytelling, after venturing into the fantasy and science fiction of his last three films — “Children of Men,” “Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban,” and “Gravity” — is a welcome return to Cuarón’s roots and his first film, “Y Tu Mamá También.”
It is clear that Cuarón has a unique eye and love for his home of Mexico City. In his sweeping tracking shots of the characters walking and running through the city and countryside of Mexico City, Cuarón demonstrates his technical mastery — the camera seems to glide in and out of impossible areas. These shots are some of the most breathtaking images to air on screen.
Cuarón also managed to create individual stories, taking place for mere seconds, as the moving frame follows the protagonist. These small stories and moments, which have nothing to do with the film’s narrative, enable Cuarón to create a fully breathing world for the audience.
However, the beauty of “Roma” is not only present in its astonishing tracking shots and world building. In fact, the truly moving moments come during scenes between characters where the camera remains immovable.
Cuarón made the choice to film all the dialogue in one take, with all characters sharing the frame in conversation, unlike the typical shot-reverse-shot form. By doing this, he creates a type of immersion where the audience feels they are eavesdropping into the conversions of real people, dealing with real problems. Cuarón’s unconventional shooting makes the emotional gut punches of the film land harder than anything I have seen in a long time.
“Roma” is the type of movie that is both relevant and timeless, and should be rewarded at every chance it gets. It is the perfect combination of a masterful director using creative techniques in service of storytelling. All the elements of the film seamlessly combine to create something truly special. Simply put, “Roma” is a masterpiece.
I am glad I saw “Roma” in a theater; it provided the perfect setting to be wowed and fully immersed in the characters and the world Cuarón has crafted. However, I do not think a theater showing was necessary to see how truly amazing the film is. The biggest takeaway from the theater and the streaming release of “Roma” is that everyone should see the film — in any way they can.
Ben Hafetz is a media studies and politics double major at Pitzer College. He likes to not only see movies, but also tell his friends why they should or should not like certain ones.