Among the shortlist nominations announced this week for 2019’s Academy Awards, one movie’s inclusion in the best foreign language film category was no surprise to film buffs.
Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical ’70s family drama, Roma, has swept all before it this year since its world premiere at August’s Venice International Film Festival.
Shot in black and white by previous dual-Oscar winner and six-time nominee Cuarón, 57, on a handheld Alexa 6K 65 camera in his old hometown, the Spanish-language film is an international phenomenon.
But outside cinephiles’ circles, it’s almost unknown.
The secret film scoring high ratings
In Venice, it won three awards including the Golden Lion top prize, and since then – acclaimed as “a rapturous magnum opus” and “achingly beautiful” – was chosen by TIME magazine and the New York Film Critics Circle as the best film of 2018.
It scores a whopping 96 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes, where the critics’ consensus was Roma sees writer-director Cuarón (Gravity, Children of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambien) “in complete enthralling command of his visual craft”.
The US National Board of Review called it one of the top-10 best films of the past 12 months. It has three nominations for January’s Golden Globe Awards.
On the same day it made the Oscars shortlist, Roma was named best picture and best foreign-language film of 2018. Last week, it clinched the LA Film Critics Association’s top prize.
Filmed in 2016 and starring Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira and Marco Graf, the 135-minute movie follows the life of a young live-in housekeeper to a middle-class family in the Mexico City neighbourhood of Roma.
It’s a “gorgeous look at life on a grand scale told through the prism of one family,” The Chicago Tribune wrote.
“ It is about change and how we adapt and grow. It is about love and sometimes the lack of it … heartbreaking, devastating, and life-affirming all at once,” according to the Detroit News.
The rave reviews (“exceptional”, “powerful”, “stark”) go on and on, although among the tsunami of critics’ love for Roma, not everyone is impressed.
“The vast majority of movie-goers will not find Roma accessible at all … another ‘critic’ movie that applauds abstract art and serves in-part as Cuarón hero-worship,” wrote Tom Santilli on ASX.com on December 17.
Armond White of the National Review couldn’t recall “another art movie so openly patronising toward its subject, yet so self-flattering of its maker’s largesse”.
Where to see it – and how
So, are you intrigued yet?
Making Roma even more fascinating is that it had only a limited season internationally from November 21.
It’s still screening in some Australian arthouse cinemas, and as of last weekend made its debut on Netflix.
The catch with that? Viewing the crisp monochrome cinematography on TV isn’t ideal unless motion smoothing is turned off.
As Tom Cruise told the world in an urgent public service announcement on December 5, there’s a downside to streaming movies in the comfort of your home.
I’m taking a quick break from filming to tell you the best way to watch Mission: Impossible Fallout (or any movie you love) at home. pic.twitter.com/oW2eTm1IUA
— Tom Cruise (@TomCruise) December 4, 2018
In a sign of how significant Roma is to the film world this year, movie industry and review site IndieWire wrote a whole story about the best way to watch it at home on Netflix.
The first few rules are to “turn off motion smoothing or interpolation, set your colour temperature to ‘normal’ and enable HDR”, according to the site.
It warned viewers to take special note of the guide’s rationale for the temperature setting.
Because it’s shot in black and white, ‘warm’ colour temperature can make the film appear tinted sepia or yellow. When set to ‘cool’ the film can appear overly blue, IndieWire said.