Friday, December 14, 2018


seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens, NY

Recently I had experimented with seeing certain new movies without knowing anything about them, but since the last movie I did that with was Mother!, I've put that experiment on the shelf for awhile. Sometimes a little knowledge is a good thing.

Earlier this week I noticed Cinemart was showing the new Alfonso Cuarón film Roma, of which I knew nothing. I knew Cuarón, of course: I liked Gravity and loved Children of Men, so I figured this would be good, too — but this time I read up on it first.

Movie fans know this is the time of year when most of the quality films come out, which I hate because it's like a logjam, and you never know for certain how long these movies will last during their theatrical run. Roma is different, though: it's a Netflix movie getting a wide-ish theatrical release.

I haven't talked in depth on Netflix because I don't subscribe to it, but it's past time I said a few words. In the past few years, original Netflix films have gotten some major Oscar love even though most of them don't get theatrical runs. Netflix releases entire "seasons" of their original television series all at once, encouraging "binge-watching" in one night. They've changed our relationship to entertainment in a short time.

I read an article recently about how their technology strives to anticipate which films you would like based on past rentals. As a long-time video store veteran, that was one of the best parts of my job: learning a customer's tastes and trying to match it with my knowledge of movies.

To know this technology exists is, for me, more than a little disturbing — I simply cannot accept a computer program could do this as well as I could — but this is the point in time and space we've reached.

Back to Roma, though: if you know me, you know I value seeing movies in theaters, and not just because I'm traditional that way. To be immersed in a film playing on a gigantic screen, where you can take in a greater level of detail and nuance, and let the emotion and drama and action of the story envelop you, is a special feeling.

My understanding is that Netflix realized what they had with Roma and in addition to streaming it for the home video market, they chose to give it a theatrical release, and Cuarón has been encouraging people to see it that way.

When I saw Cinemart had it, my fear was it would be for a very limited time, so I went to see it the same day I read up on it. This has thrown my viewing list for this season further out of whack than it was (may have to pass on Ralph Breaks the Internet), but oh well.

I'm just glad Cinemart chose to screen Roma, so I wouldn't have to pay fifteen bucks for it in the city. Ever since they resumed showing first-run films, their selection has been primarily mainstream.

They probably show more indies than the UA Midway on Queens Boulevard, a 20 minute walk from the Cinemart, but nowhere near as much as the Kew Gardens. I saw First Man at Cinemart, for example, as well as A United Kingdom and Nightcrawler.

Roma, however, is a foreign-language film in black and white. Perhaps it was the Netflix imprimatur that sold them on this one. Wouldn't surprise me. The late afternoon screening I went to had maybe a fourth to a third of the small room full, so there was an audience for it.

Roma is an autobiographical tale of Cuaron's childhood in Mexico City; Roma is the neighborhood in which he lived. The story centers around the nanny who raised him and his siblings, a young woman named Libo Rodriguez, named Cleo in the movie.

As a character, Cleo is practically a child herself: old enough to be a caretaker for four little kids and to have a boyfriend, yet young enough to be duped by his promises. Oh, and there's some political unrest going on at the same time.

Like all of Cuarón's films, the cinematography is breathtaking. His usual cameraman, triple Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki, was unavailable, so Cuarón shot it himself. He provides long, loving tracking shots of the recreated house he used to live in, as well as the city streets and the countryside.

There's always something going on in the foreground or the background. Cuarón is very conscious of space, motion and light; he wants you to linger on his compositions.

Newcomer Yalitza Aparicio plays Cleo, and hers is a simple, understated performance that feels natural. She doesn't have to carry the film, so she doesn't do much heavy lifting, yet she makes you care about Cleo. And she's pretty.

Given the setting, the emphasis on female characters like Cleo and Cuarón's mother, and the black and white approach, I was reminded of the comics of the Hernandez brothers, cartoonists of Mexican descent whose work commonly feature Latinas of all shapes, sizes, sexual orientations and ages. They had a long-running series called Love & Rockets, whose characters would not be too out of place in this film.

Cuarón took a gamble with this neorealist piece, but I think it has paid off big time. In this digital age of CGI fantasia, it's good to know that personal movies like this not only still have a place, but can reach wide audiences.

Cuarón with Rodriguez today

Again, Netflix would appear to have made the difference in terms of distribution. I have a feeling if Roma goes all the way and wins Best Picture (it's a cinch it will get nominated), the industry will feel the implications


  1. Your review, along with the trailer has intrigued me. Toronto screenings are not convenient for me so, sadly, this may end up being a home viewing experience.

  2. That's okay. As long as you see it.

  3. I watched it on Netflix since it's hard to believe it'd reach the movie theater at the mall in the city I live in - only blockbusters there. Although the story was a bit too "quiet" for me (I liked Cleo but didn't connect so much with the story), I was mesmerized with the technical aspects, in special the photography. Not sure about Best Picture win, but Best Foreign Language Movie for sure.

  4. I admit, if I had to choose between which I liked better, the acting & writing or the cinematography & editing, I'd give the edge to the latter, but the difference is like an A and an A+.

  5. I loved this film. I loved the themes of water and the repetition of life, as well as the realistic dynamics of the family. The shots were beautiful and lovingly composed. I also liked that the opening credits were shown on the ground, while the end credits were shown on the sky. Also, I was impressed with Yalitza Aparicio, especially the scene where the boyfriend leaves her in the theatre – the way she picks up his coat as if she's thinking, "He may not come back for me, but he'll surely come back for this." I thought her character was one of the toughest, most resilient women I've seen on screen, and I admired her very much.

  6. Amazing. I've seen it twice and I didn't notice all that stuff about water as a motif and that ground-to-the-sky thing until you brought it up! So thanks for mentioning it.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.