Some movies reach beyond their imagery to inspire us to take fresh looks at the world we experience and the mirrors we examine. Such films inspire us to reach beyond what we may see on screen to explore how we react with our hearts.

The extraordinary film, Roma, introduces us to a family trying to learn what life can mean as they maneuver through the details of day-to-day life. At first these people, and their routines, may seem less than remarkable, perhaps typical of prosperous families in Mexico City in the 1970s when the film is set. But we soon learn that what burns beneath the surface defines this home, as the grandmother dotes on the children and parents navigate the tension in their marriage.

Holding this collection of characters together is Cleo, a quiet, sincere and loving woman who reaches beyond the household service she provides to be the rock the family leans on. She seems to be everywhere, from cleaning dirty rooms to laundering dirty clothes to absorbing dirty relationships. The family can’t move forward without her support. But when she must deal with her own challenges, she tests the resilience she can bring and the caring she looks to her employer to provide.

Over the years, other movies have told similar stories. And writer/director Alfonso Cuarón is not the first movie maker to draw upon the memories of childhood. Think Federico Fellini. But Roma is so fresh in its approach, so expansive in its visual scope, so authentic in its emotional resonance, that we feel we see it all for the first time. This movie is an essential experience for anyone who is curious, thoughtful and committed to the world and its goodness. And who loves movies.

For director Cuarón, who won an Oscar for directing Gravity in 2013, Roma is another exquisite step in a movie journey. The movie feels, from its detailed opening, like the exploration of memory. In the film’s captivating first moments, Cuarón uses long takes of the camera to reveal layers of routine, resentment and reality that thrive among the members of a family with too many purchases to fit into an expansive house, too many pets to be cared for, too many unsaid disappointments to pretend life is happy behind closed doors. Cuarón’s camera examines the hopes and disappointments of these fascinating people as well as the intensity of the crowds they join, lingering on the beauty as well as studying the deterioration. Certain moments feel so real it doesn’t seem possible that we’re watching a movie.

But we are. And, because the film is distributed by Netflix, most people will see this movie on much smaller screens than Cuarón may have intended. While that may dilute the scope of the film’s visual power, simply because of the difference in screen size, it should not impact the emotional experience. Cuarón did not make a television movie. He made a movie movie that just happens to be showing on a smaller screen.

Film Nutritional Value: Roma

  • Content: High. A year in the life of a family searching for answers reveals the soul that binds them together.

  • Entertainment: High. Thanks to director Alfonso Cuarón’s command of a camera, the movie beautifully captures multiple layers of emotional truth.

  • Message: High. Because of the way Cuarón tells the story, and the power of the visuals, the film offers a strong message of resilience and caring.

  • Relevance: High. Any opportunity to examine meaningful moments in a family’s history can prompt discussion between parents and older children.

  • Opportunity for Dialogue: High. From the characters to the visuals to the beautiful way Cuarón tells a story, Roma offers you and your older children a lot to talk about, on the screen and in your own family.

Roma is rated R for “graphic nudity, some disturbing images, and language.” The film runs 2 hours, 15 minutes. It is available in theaters before it debuts on Netflix on Dec. 14. 5 Popcorn Buckets. 

The Revenant reinvents the epic

There are moments in Roma when director Alfonso Cuarón delivers sequences unlike anything we have seen at the movies.

The same sensation happens in The Revenant where director Alexander G. Iñárritu, who won an Oscar for the film, breaks the rules of how to use a camera, he creates new ways to tell a story. And, while the narrative can feel familiar at moments, how the director tells this survival tale is anything but conventional. The Revenant will leave you breathless.

This director likes to innovate. A year before, Iñárritu won an Oscar for insisting that Birdman look as if the entire film was shot in one take. This new film is even more ambitious. While Birdman came to life inside the confines of a Broadway theater, The Revenant is shot against rugged backgrounds in the wilderness. While the earlier film explored a man’s struggle with internal demons, the new work examines how a man must overcome every possible obstacle to survive. And while the characters in Birdman talked a lot about their issues, stretches of The Revenant are dialogue free where Iñárritu lets his camera capture how people struggle to live.

While this may sound heavy, The Revenant rings true with an optimistic view that, in the end, right can win over wrong. As the film’s hero — masterfully created by Leonardo DiCaprio – must try to survive, we experience the power of his perseverance, and believe in his capacity to endure. The story is simple. DiCaprio is a trapper in 1820s America long before the West was won and the new nation built an infrastructure to keep the peace between people. As a man committed to protect his son — after the death of the son’s mother — DiCaprio will do anything to ensure his son’s safety. But when man and beast attack, and the father risks losing everything, including his life, he fights back in ways we don’t often see at the movies.

For DiCaprio, the role offers a chance to work against a backdrop big enough for the intensity he brings to his craft. Nothing the actor has done before prepares us for what he accomplishes here. With minimal dialogue and, at moments, severe physical limitations, he conveys everything we need to know about a man who refuses to let anything define his life, family or future. The actor makes us believe that a man can navigate a brutal world. And he’s matched each step by Tom Hardy whose villain is so convincing that we cheer DiCaprio’s every effort to gain on his evil challenger.

As strong as the acting can be, though, The Revenant is a director’s triumph. With a depth of visual understanding reminiscent of Terrence McNally, and the patience for action of the late John Ford, Iñárritu makes us feel we visit primitive America for the first time. Never have such sequences — of isolated men in a brutal land — looked so spontaneous. The director uses the depth of his camera, and the range of his visual, to explore what’s inside a man who simply refuses to die.

The Revenant reminds us that, as mature as film may be as a craft, artists will continue to push its boundaries. Though Iñárritu creates visuals that astound, his journey inside this hero gives the film its heart. While the film’s advertisements promote the louder moments in the movie, at its core this is a highly personal story of survival from a director who knows how to thrive, one magical movie at a time.

The Revenant is rated R for “strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity.” The film runs 156 minutes.