WHILE it did not win an Oscar as the Best Picture in the 91st Academy Awards, “Roma” took three awards: Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Foreign Film. Nominated in 10 categories, Alfonso Cuaron’s black-and-white cine obtained wide media buildup, thanks to the promotional campaign of the Netflix. It was much a victory for Cuaron as it was for Netflix.
Cuaron is no stranger in Hollywood. He has proven himself reliable in directing artistically appealing, as well as commercially successful motion pictures. His work in the George Clooney-Sandra Bullock film “Gravity” got him his first Oscar, while directing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban put him on the A-list.
Netflix has challenged major players in the film industry and is rattling theater operators. It now produces direct-to-TV movies that are at par in quality with those backed by the likes of Walt Disney Studios, Sony Pictures and Warner Bros. It is changing the viewing habit of the public away from the movie houses to the comfort of their homes. Netflix spends good money on popular actors and noted directors for flicks meant for its subscribers; but for years it could not compete for the Oscars as its films have no theatrical exhibition. To circumvent the rule, it had “Roma” shown in theaters for a limited period prior to releasing this on cable.
Described as a highly personal film of Cuaron, “Roma” chronicles the life of a live-in domestic helper to a middle-class family living in the Colona Roma neighborhood in Mexico City. I doubt if any of the big studios would have financed the feature even with Cuaron’s credentials, considering its lack of commercial appeal and casting of unknown actors. For Netflix it was a no-brainer: brilliant director, low production cost and potential contender for awards.
Cuaron is in his element in “Roma.” The choice of black-and-white is a master stroke, as it gives the film periodic authenticity. The story line is as real to life as it gets. The 56-year-old filmmaker tied up the personal struggle of the main character to the poor state of his native land at that point in time. The actors do their parts so seamlessly without the drama, so much so that it has the feel of a documentary.
Actually, “Roma” reminded me of the films of Lino Brocka, one of the Philippines most illustrious directors. Growing up during Martial Law, I found Brocka’s motion pictures revealing of the ills of society--poverty, criminality, abuse of authority and discrimination. Who can ever forget “Insiang,” “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang,” “Ora Pro Nobis” and “Manila: Sa Kuko nga Liwanag”? I have to say this: the body of work of Brocka dwarfs this “masterpiece” of Cuaron.
Cuaron is lucky as with his brilliance, he was able to get his feet into Hollywood, a chance that Lino Brocka never had.