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COLUMN: Why ‘Roma’ is special



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"Roma" premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2018. Movie Stills Database

A little over two years ago, “Roma” premiered at the Venice Film Festival. It made rounds at a handful of festivals before a brief run in movie theaters and dropped onto Netflix on December 14, 2018. 

While I don’t remember the specific moment I heard about “Roma,” I do remember the discussion prior to its release. There was a lot of talk about awards and critics were saying it was the best of the year, but something felt a little different. 

Because people I knew who didn’t really care about movies were talking about it. 

“Roma” doesn’t have much of a story to be honest. It’s the tale of a maid who works for a family in Mexico City, and all of the events that happen in her life over the course of a year. It’s simple and effective. 

But the story of “Roma” goes far beyond the screen. Despite the film’s qualities, it’s almost more remarkable for what it symbolizes than for what it is. 

“Roma” made people start to care about foreign films. 

It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly was special about “Roma” that made it fundamentally change the game, but there are definitely a couple culprits. 

One of them is the director, Alfonso Cuarón. While he may not be the most well-known director out there, he has been behind some very well-known movies. In 2013, he directed “Gravity,” which won him his first Oscar for Best Achievement in Directing. Even more famous is a little movie called “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” which some (including me) would argue is the best Harry Potter movie of them all. 

Netflix also deserves some credit for the film’s success. While I still dislike much of Netflix’s creative decision-making, their support for “Roma” is undeniable. Even though the film was made on a fairly low budget, the lack of an extended theatrical release meant Netflix would never make the money back. They’ve also continued their support with a documentary about the film titled “Road to Roma” which was released in February of this year. 

And the effect “Roma” wound up having on international audiences was something special. 

The first thing that jumps out to me is how “Roma” paved the way for other foreign-language films becoming more widely accepted. The best example of this is “Parasite,” which I am certain would not have been as embraced as it was if “Roma” hadn’t stepped onto the scene first. 

While it wasn’t on quite the same scale as “Parasite,” I sensed that people who weren’t interested in foreign films still cared for “Roma.” I vividly remember a friend of mine asking me to go with him to see it while it was in theaters. This friend of mine is now majoring in chemistry. In other words, he’s not the kind of person you’d expect would want to see an artsy foreign film in a theater. 

I’m aware this hasn’t been a traditional review, and I hope it’s clear why. Frankly, I see no reason to talk about how great “Roma” is because I don’t have anything original to say. It has been nearly two years since its release onto Netflix, and there have been thousands of reviews written about it in that time. I could write about the brilliant direction and gut-wrenching performances, but that ground has been tread many times. 

Instead, in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, I chose to write about its influence and how I personally experienced it. It’s a truly remarkable film, and I’m certain it will only grow more respected with time. 

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