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All roads lead to “ROMA”

Yukihiro ISHIKAWA / HOTSHOT EXECUTIVE EDITOR

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I saw “ROMA.” It was the most beautiful motion picture I’ve seen in a long time. I was once again blown away by director Alfonso CUARON’s genius. About this movie, CUARON himself has said, “This was the first time I felt I was able to express exactly what I intended in a movie.”

“ROMA” is set in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City where the director was born and raised. Based on the director’s own experiences growing up in the 1970s, it tells the story of the lives and loves of one family. Coincidentally, ROMA spelled backwards is AMOR (love).

The framework of this story is a clear departure from studio movies in every way. The movie was shot in black and white, and Spanish is spoken throughout. There are no famous actors in the movie. There is no musical score. The performances tell an eloquent story relying only on incidental music to describe emotions and scenes. One can experience this in Dolby Atomos in particular for the theatrically released version, which creates more than realistic feeling that goes beyond the typical documentary. Every frame manages to capture the zeitgeist of 1970s Mexico City, transporting the audience back in time.
Of particular note are the overwhelmingly beautiful images from CUARON, who was also the Director of Photography on this movie. The movie has garnered incredible acclaim; critics have said only an auteur could tell a story in this way. The movie used a top-of-the-line camera system, the ARRI ALEXA 65, creating a natural-looking establishing shot without any distortion in the panning, and image-matching that led to perfect framing and sound design. Every scene is streamlined, evidence of a perfectly planned story. Even as a sketch, the balance between the performances by the actors and the scenery is perfect; the visual aesthetics are reminiscent of Stanley KUBRICK.

The movie also leaves behind another significant mark: the awareness that it’s a streaming movie and a new view of the cinematic experience. The budget was the same as a major Hollywood movie at $15 million (about 1.67 billion yen), but with 1970s Mexico City as the setting, without any famous actors plus an understated setting, none of the major studios wanted to pick it up, so in the end it became a Netflix production. However, the result was that it became the first movie streamed online to win a Golden Globe as well as an Academy Award. At the Academy Award in particular, it won in the categories of cinematography, directing, and best foreign language film. Although not a studio movie, there was no way this movie wouldn’t be recognized as a masterpiece. The experience for moviegoers worldwide underwent a rapid transformation. Here was proof that motion pictures were moving away from the idea that media = TV and theaters, and we were experiencing a major revolution.

Other issues arose in a different area. Once the movie had premiered simultaneously worldwide, Netflix added Iberian-Spanish subtitles to the Mexican Spanish spoken in the movie. CUARON was outspoken in his protest. Spanish is spoken by around 500 million people around the world and is the fourth most spoken language in the world, but there are differences in the language depending on whether one is from the Iberian Peninsula, Central America or South America. Netflix removed the subtitles, but this is a topic relevant to other languages, and as the popularity of streaming movies grows, diversity and the issues surrounding multiculturalism will only increase. Diversity is an even more sensitive issue than production terms or speed.

All that to say, “ROMA” paves the way for pairing the craft of moviemaking with streaming content, and points us towards the future of movies.