The Oberlin Review

Best Picture Countdown: “Roma”

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 Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma has the potential to become the first ever foreign-language film to win Best Picture. Its simple yet touching story, skilled camera work, and sound design set it apart from its competitors, boasting the kind of pedigree the Academy craves. It thoughtfully caters to an intellectual audience while remaining digestible enough for anybody to enjoy. 

And perhaps these are the qualities, along with its release on Netflix in addition to the big screen, that have allowed Roma to break the curse that sometimes inhibits foreign language films from receiving Best Picture nominations, as they tend to be unfairly overlooked or pigeonholed into a single category. With a whopping ten nominations, Roma is an industry game-changer that certainly deserves a watch for many reasons. 

Emotion and relatability drive the very loose plot forward, leaving even the most heartless hooked. Filmed on a 65mm lens in black-and-white, Roma is partly autobiographical, dedicated to the housekeeper who helped raise Cuarón during the 1970s in his childhood neighborhood, Colonia Roma. 

Cuarón’s homeland, one wracked by societal unrest, informs the lives of the characters who exist within its borders. Through busy wide shots, he treats the city like a living entity, one bursting with personality and beauty, while still depicting its unavoidable dark side. 

He deftly transposes social issues of race and class onto interactions between the housekeeper Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) and Sofia (Marina de Tavira), the white matriarch of the well-off Mexico City family for whom Cleo works. He subtly shows the impact of the women’s respective levels of privilege on their livelihood. 

Through Cleo’s eyes, we see her holding the family together with quiet compassion, while at the same time remaining an outsider, sweeping in and out of private conversations about Sofia’s hidden anguish. The family never fully includes and embraces Cleo because of her Indigenous background and lower class standing. 

That being so, Cuarón’s accurate depiction of female characters and their inherent complexities strengthens the story. Its in-depth portrayal could simply be a cynical narrative for both Cleo and Sofia, but Roma never indulges in melodrama, making the experience of watching the film all the more realistic and moving.

This truth allows Roma to fracture the language barrier entirely. This film is relevant to viewers of any background, encouraging them to empathize and reflect on their humanity and their position in society. Ultimately, Roma is an enjoyable tear-jerker that could forever alter the history of Hollywood if it does win Best Picture.

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