Yes, Cuaron shot it in color and then converted it to black & white to try to preserve real tones. I know what you mean about the instances of whitening but I'm sure it was deliberate. I remember Cuaron in an interview talking about how he wanted some of the tone of the film to be the way you would experience a memory of something - not so contrasty the way other B&W movies usually are, not so straightforward, but more evocative - as if you're trying to remember something from many years ago that's vivid but not 100% clear. I lived in Colonia Roma in Mexico City in 1973 for 6 months and it's funny that when I think back on it I see it in my mind and feel it almost in the way Cuaron shot this movie. It looks and feels so real to me and so right! However, I didn't experience this as extremely as you described and I didn't experience any strain while watching it on HDTV so it might have been the settings on the TV you watched it on?
That makes a lot of sense now that you explained why Cuaron chose to do it that way. I liked the fact that the B&W photography was not super contrasty and it did not look like he used filters. I need to watch it again. I like his work a lot.
Me too! Especially Roma and Children of Men. Also Y Tu Mama Tambien (there should be an Oscar for best title). :)