Pawel Pawlikowski made a tremendously entertaining film (described as a delirious romance, which it certainly is). He based it on stories his parents told him about their love affair during the time of Communism, and the film’s elliptical quality captivates because it’s truly an art film without the pretension or so-called slow pacing stigma that besmirches the “art” film.
Pawlikowski and his extraordinary collaborators shot this film and his previous film (IDA) in the pretty-much defunct (for feature films) 4:3 aspect ratio and in the kinetic Black & White. You forget how much power those two choices can give a film narrative.
This film is certainly not for everyone (especially in today’s current culture of outrage because there are hardly any people of color in a film about Polish immigrants during the height of Iron Curtian/Cold War), but it’s a testament to the universal dictum that a film story works as long as it continues to enthrall you. Love stories with the level of obsession and the cost of that obsession usually get the vulgar treatment of an erotic thriller (which we don’t see enough of!), so when this film’s story takes its twists and turns, and emotional punches they hit deep in the gut.
This is a Criterion Collection release, which is slightly odd because Amazon released the film theatrically and its still available on its Amazon Prime platform. However, I applaud the producers for extracting the physical home video media rights, so ardent fans can see the film without having to get Amazon Prime. And the Criterion “extras” are always worth actually holding the movie in your hand.
When this film was up for multiple Oscars in February 2018, it and Alfonso Cuaron’s ROMA were up for best picture and best cinematography, and this was the first time since 1962 that TWO BLACK & WHITE films were up for those Academy Awards in the same year. With all the talk about the Oscars being about artistic achievement as recognized by the industry (despite the political salvos that it has been reduced to), this was not a story… even in the niche industry press. I guess no one really cares about films shot in B&W except for directors and cinematographers (as we’ll see with David Fincher’s next film, MANK, it will also be shot in B&W… and distributed on Netflix… so no theatrical experience except for the select crowd in Los Angeles and New York who can see Guild screenings in the private screening rooms).