What's Roma about?
Roma begins in 1970 with the image of water sloshing in a driveway of an upper middle class home in Mexico City -- almost exactly like the one of Cuarón's childhood. The director focuses on Cleo (first-time actress Yalitza Aparicio), one of the domestic workers in this household, tracking her over the course of a year. She falls in love with an ambitious young man, who abandons her when she gets pregnant, and Cleo follows the family around, as they too are left by their patriarchal figure.
Cuarón made the movie on 65 millimeter black and white film, and utilized Dolby Atmos technology, which carries sound throughout the theater. If seen in a venue that can accommodate that, you'll notice how, for example, in one scene where Cleo is singing a lullaby her voice comes from behind you until the camera pans around and she's on screen. Naturally, you're not going to get this effect sitting on your laptop, and certainly not if you're watching on a phone.
And yet, there's an argument to be made that Roma would not exist -- or would, at least, reach a much smaller audience -- without Netflix's involvement. US studios aren't exactly clamoring to produce black and white films in foreign languages. "A film like this, in Spanish, indigenous, in black and white and a drama, not a genre movie, we know it would have huge difficulty just finding space to be shown in theaters," Cuarón told The Hollywood Reporter. It's tough to argue with the sheer scale of Netflix and its hundreds of millions of subscribers around the world.
This is just the beginning of Netflix's push into prestige filmmaking, as the service is earning a track record of luring auteurs by offering them what they say no one else will. Next year it will drop Martin Scorsese's latest, The Irishman, which languished for years before the streaming giant picked it up.