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‘Roma’ Wins the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, First Mexican Film to Do So

Alfonso Cuarón's Netflix movie earned 10 nominations, including Best Picture.

(L to R) Marco Graf as Pepe, Daniela Demesa as Sofi, Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marina De Tavira as Sofia, Diego Cortina Autrey as Toño, Carlos Peralta Jacobson as Paco in Roma, written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Photo by Carlos Somonte


Photo by Carlos Somonte

Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film on Sunday night. The victory was hardly much of a surprise, as this dream-like Mexican drama was the only film in its category to also be nominated for Best Picture, and had been the prohibitive favorite to win the prize ever since it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in September before sweeping across the rest of the circuit. The other nominees in this category were Nadine Labaki’s “Capernaum,” Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Cold War,” Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s “Never Look Away,” and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters.”

A mellifluous tribute to the indigenous maid who effectively raised Cuarón during his childhood years, “Roma” tells the story of Cleo (Oscar nominee Yalitza Aparicio), whose quiet existence runs parallel to that of the affluent family she’s been hired to serve. Set against the Mexican student movement of the early 1970s, and shot in a series of stunning black-and-white compositions that flow with the unreal beauty of our most beloved memories, the film chronicles the day-to-day life of its heroine as she tries to retain her own humanity in the face of increasingly turbulent circumstances.

“Roma” is the first foreign language film to be nominated for Best Picture since Michael Haneke’s “Amour” in 2012, though it was not the year’s only international offering to compete for Oscar gold (“Cold War” received nominations for Best Director and Best Cinematography, and “Never Look Away” received a Best Cinematography nod). “Roma” is also the first Netflix movie to ever compete in the Best Picture category, and its 10 nominations — which may be owed to the most expensive Oscar campaign in a decade — tie it with “The Favourite” as this year’s most-nominated film.

“Roma” was the eighth film from Mexico nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, and the first to win. The award was presented by Javier Bardem and Angela Bassett, the former of whom spoke in subtitled Spanish and delivered a pointed message about the absurdity of building walls. In his acceptance speech, Cuarón said that “he grew up watching foreign films, like ‘Citizen Kane,’ Jaws,’ ‘Breathless,’ and ‘The Godfather.”  He quoted Claude Chabrol (“there are no waves, only the ocean”) and proclaimed that all of his fellow nominees were a part of this same ocean.

It was Cuarón’s second Oscar of the evening, as he had already won Best Cinematography for “Roma,” making him the first person to ever win Best Cinematography for a film that they also directed.

The 91st Academy Awards took place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on Sunday, February 25. The host-less show aired on ABC, and was also live-streamed by the network.

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