By John H. Foote
This history making film is virtually a home movie for the great Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron. The Oscar winning director directed, wrote, shot, produced and edited Roma, the most personal of his career, and the first film from Netflix to be nominated for an Academy Award.
The impact of streaming films on the Oscars could be massive, though the Academy has made it clear a film must open in a theatre for it to qualify for the Oscars. Roma did just that, and was very popular on the festival circuit.
The story of a family dealing with emotional upheaval in their home and in Mexico in the seventies is a solid film, beautifully presented in black and white. Much of the film is about washing away pain, and Cuaron achieves this in many ways, both literal and metaphorically. Told through the eyes of Cleo, housekeeper, maid and baby sitter for a wealthy family who treat her like family, though they often remind her of her position. When she becomes pregnant after an affair, her employers offer their help, but Cleo realizes her world is changing, falling apart. Yalitza Aparicio is exquisite as Cleo, her face often a mask of pure reaction to what is happening around her.
It feels like memory, washing over us like the water in the opening frame over brick. Without being overtly sentimental, the film has a nostalgic feel about it, as though it had been plucked from the directors mind and screened.
Cuaron is one of a trio of gifted Mexican directors who have dominated the Academy Awards and the landscape of American cinema. His masterful Children of Men (2007) remains one of his most beloved films and he won an Oscar for the extraordinary Gravity (2013). He may well win a second for this picture.
Like The English Patient (1996), the critics have fallen over themselves looking for superlatives to describe the film. Despite 10 nominations, I do not believe Roma is a masterpiece of any kind. Beautiful to look at, made with empathy and sensitivity, it has a lot going for it, but 10 nominations? Really? The front runner? Seriously?
The doors from Netflix to the Academy have been opened, let’s now wait for the deluge of streaming films to come.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.