Opening up the Oscars: With ‘Roma,’ Netflix Enters the Best Picture Race


“Roma” is nominated for 10 Academy Awards. Courtesy Flickr.

By Madge Slack


The first-ever Netflix original movie to be nominated for best picture, “Roma,” has been hailed a triumph by critics and viewers alike. Written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, who won Academy Awards for both directing and film editing for “Gravity,” “Roma” was released to high expectations. The story follows the life of a live-in maid in 1970’s Mexico named Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio). It is based on Cuaron’s memories of his own nanny and maid Lido, whom the film is dedicated to. Currently, “Roma” is up for ten Oscars, including best picture and best actress.

“Roma” is a black-and-white film with its dialogue entirely in Spanish. (It is also nominated for best foreign language film). The story is charming as audiences come to realize the depth of connection between Cleo and the family she works for. This film is not gratuitous in its use of gore, horror or bloodshed, despite its setting during the “Mexican Dirty War.” This conflict is the background to the primary drama, which takes place in the lives of the families.

“Roma” is also nominated for sound editing, cinematography and best original screenplay. As far as these nominations go, “Roma” does not live up to the hype. The use of black and white might be an avant-garde choice in 2018, but the remainder of the work felt like a drag against the already slow plot line. The cinematography is a primarily a series of extremely long shots. For instance, the opening sequence is a good thirty seconds of the floor being washed — audiences can only see the floor, soap and water. There are moments when this film tactic might have been particularly powerful later on, but the overuse of long exposures lessens their impact and causes the storyline to drag. The sound editing is not much better. Of course, the film has subtitles, but even Spanish speakers would struggle to hear the words over the unbalanced ambient noise. Many scenes possess overwhelming background noise so loud it might be quieter if we were actually there. (A scene filmed by the ocean is particularly difficult to hear). As for the screenplay, it is certainly a look into the kind of lifestyle rarely depicted on screen. However, there is no real plot or point to the movie, and viewers should not expect to walk away feeling any kind of catharsis, nor are they likely to leave with deep thoughts about the status of household workers or the lives of others.

The set of the film is fluid and appropriate without sticking out or blending in. It depicts the time period and social class accurately, however, its directorial choices seem bland and extended. The movie runs for two hours and 15 minutes, but feels more like three. Time spent on irrelevant things and images certainly seem excessive. Needless to say, the nomination for best production design feels a little out of place.

The one nomination absolutely well founded is that of best actress and best supporting actress for Aparicio and Marina de Tavira respectively. These two women do an exceptional job of bringing the audience into their world with their subtle but enchanting performances. Aparicio goes about her work with a lovely kind of humility and de Tavira responds unexpectedly (and delightfully) when life gets in her way. These are not the kind of roles that heap on grandeur at the end of the film, but both women possess a quiet kind of dignity, both delicate and powerful. They are a wonderful pair.

Against films like “Black Panther” and “A Star is Born,” “Roma” frankly seems simple. It doesn’t have the punch of “BlacKkKlansman” or “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It is not a true story like “Green Book” or “Vice” and while it certainly taps into national tension it fails to do so in a direct or aggressive way. Can this sleepy little film really win? Only time will tell, but the nominations alone put Netflix on the filmmaking map and signify a crucial moment in movie history.

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