Malcolm Marie Zendaya John David Washington

Malcolm & Marie stars Zendaya and John David Washington as a couple facing down fate of their relationship. “This is not a love story,” the brand-new trailer tells us. “This is the story of love.”

The film is also one of the most high-profile tests so far of whether you can make a compelling film under strict COVID-19 protocols. And if it enters the Oscar race, as many predict it will, Malcolm & Marie will be one of the timeliest films in competition because it was shot during the pandemic, not before it started.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm shot partly before and partly during the pandemic, and involved a much bigger cast — some of them real people, like Rudy Giuliani, unknowingly roped into the production.

Malcolm & Marie director Sam Levinson, who runs Zendaya’s HBO show Euphoria, led a production that shot in secret, in quarantine, over the summer in an isolated California location.

The plot centers around a filmmaker named Malcolm (Washington) and his girlfriend Marie (Zendaya) on the night after his film has premiered. As they return home to see what the critical response will be, they also critically analyze their feelings for one another. Revelations come to the surface.

The film, shot in black and white, centers on Malcolm and Marie both as a function of the story and a concession to the pandemic. It’s an attempt to turn the limits of the quarantine into an artistic advantage.

The film premiered at the virtual Toronto International Film Festival in September, and impressed Netflix enough that it shelled out a jaw-dropping $30 million. Netflix bought Pieces of a Woman, out on streaming today, at the same time.

Both films give the streaming giant possibly entry into the Best Actress race: Zendaya, who won an Emmy in September for Euphoria, is now eligible for the Oscars as well. And Pieces of a Woman star Vanessa Kirby has also gotten lots of attention.

The film also puts a fresh spotlight on Washington, who anchored Tenet this past fall. The film never received the blockbuster rollout that once seemed certain for it, as COVID-19 forced repeated delays. Tenet ended up being one of the only big-budget films released into theaters since the pandemic caused theater closures and delays.

It ended up earning $362 million, according to BoxOfficeMojo. That would be an astonishing success for most films but went down as a disappointment for a Christopher Nolan enterprise.

Malcolm & Marie is a much smaller-scale endeavor, but depending on its Oscar prospects, could end up punching well above its weight — and setting an example for more small-scale films that can be shot with a careful, intimate cast and crew.

Malcolm & Marie arrives on Netflix on Feb. 5.