Pawlikowski. In future years and decades Ida and Cold War will be rightly recognized as perhaps the greatest one-two punch from any director in the 2010’s and Pawlikowski as one of this generation’s greatest filmmakers. Pawlikowski has a total of three of the top 100 films of the 2010’s and that certainly is a strength. The Polish auteur’s skills as a photographer are surpassed by no one during this decade in cinema either.

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The Polish auteur’s skills as a photographer are surpassed by no one during this decade of cinema

Best film: Ida.

  • A second look as revealed what could be the best film of 2013
  • Crisp monochrome photography- Arri Alexa 35mm
  • Mise-en-scene compositions—photography—among the best of the decade
  • 1.37: 1 box aspect ratio- directly influences (from his lips) Schrader’s First Reformed
  • Another Pawlikowski trademark- his 80-90 minute running time
  • Austere, stark
  • Silent montage opening with nuns at the convent—Pawlikowski arranges objects in the frame wondrously—often with the subject/object in the lower plane
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Silent montage opening with nuns at the convent—Pawlikowski arranges objects in the frame wondrously—often with the subject/object in the lower plane
  • Brilliant performances by both Agata Kulesza (Wanda) and Agata Trzebuchowska (Anna)—love the acting moment when Trzebuchowska’s face shows the shock of being told she’s Jewish – these are complex characters wearing the baggage of their history
  • Gorgeous rural road with trees overhanging
  • Actors framed in the doorway
  • Kulesza’s character is a skeptic- alcoholic, nihilistic, she’s angry (and justly so)- Trzebuchowska’s  (with her black eyes) character is naïve and sheltered—they’re a perfect pairing- in an alternate universe this would be a contrasting characters road trip comedy-
  • The jazz club scene (and just outside) may be the zenith of the film’s many visual lighlights—there’s the gating outside (below) and streamers and balloons in the mise-en-scene like Von Sternberg’s work
The jazz club scene (and just outside) may be the zenith of the film’s many visual highlights
  • The level of detail in the compositions—meticulous- every light, every detail in the car
  • The suicide sequence is breath-taking
  • The trademark Ingmar Bergman face-framing device

total archiveable films: 4

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films:  0

top 100 films of the decade:  3 (The Woman in the Fifth, Ida, Cold War)

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this is from Cold War – in two two straight films he’s recalling history and the historical political backdrop to tell the haunting story of a two outstanding characters—in each case lives are destroyed by either the Holocaust or Cold war

most overrated: Pawlikowski’s greatest work is so recent that it is not surprising he’s not represented at all on the TSPDT consensus top 1000— or 2000 yet. He doesn’t have an overrated film (that I know of) from the 21st century list. Ida, Cold War, and My Summer of Love are either fine or underrated. I haven’t been able to find Last Resort (2000) and that’s on the 21st century TSPDT list as well.

most underrated :  The Woman in the Fifth is nowhere to be found on the 21st century list for TSPDT. It has mediocre reviews- I believe it to be one of the most underrated films of the 21st century.

  • The narrative is intentionally opaque and that must have dissuaded most critics but they missed out here—closest relative would be to Cronenberg’s underrated (and impenetrable to most Spider from 2002). But the visual aplomb is in the lineage of Antonioni and the formal creation strong as well
this is pure Antonioni — brilliant use of obstructing the frame- reused and connected to the narrative motifs
  • Abstract soft focus opening—great blocking of the mise-en-scene and photography throughout
  • Shoots the same alley over and over (formal rendering) as a cutaway or Ozu-like pillow shot
  • Soft-focus throughout like Antonioni’s Red Desert– getting into Hawke’s fractured psyche- he’s trapped, it’s a bit of an existential nightmare
  • Two paths of the railroad tracks shot evenly—splitting the frame with a tree—a wonderful shot
  • The establishing shot or cutaways – just dazzling photography
  • The glasses Hawke wears are significant- shared with daughter and he mentions they “see the world the same way”
  • Same shot of the hallway like the alley—cutting again to the owl multiple times towards the finale—formal rendering
  • Smart casting have Ethan Hawke as the writer
  • There’s a shot on the ground (camera) in the grass—the frame is blocked like Von Sternberg with grass blades in the foreground
  • Focuses solely on Scott Thomas during the lovemaking
  • In bed we get the trademark Ingmar Bergman framing of the faces—Scott Thomas is in the foreground in soft focus
  • Spiral staircase elegant shot
  • Hawke shot through bars (and he’s literally in jail later)—there’s a spider in the web
  • Slipping out of reality- the scene where he yells in the street is great
  • Pawlikowski frequently cuts the frame in half with objects
  • Formal construction- we go back to the soft focus forest opening
  • Great shot of a column breaking up the frame with Hawke’s polish lover on one side and a man at the bar on the other- it’s gorgeous
  • 84 minutes which has become a trademark now of Pawlikowski
  • Like Red Desert or Spider it’s really a film about a damaged point of view
  • Ebert was one of the few critics to like the film- in his review he called for a shot-by-shot analysis
  • Starts slower stylistically but it’s still formally set up very well- the film gets better visually as Hawke’s psyche become less and less sound
  • Lots in common with Antonioni’s L’Eclisse
  • The shot of Hawke’s head breaking up the frame with his lawyer on one side and the translator on the other—then goes the wrong way out of that meeting—shows he devolving
  • Pillow shots of tree, railing
  • Antonioni used these to show our inability to connect. Here it’s about his breaking from reality 
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Ebert was one of the few critics to like the film- in his review he called for a shot-by-shot analysis

gem I want to spotlight :  Cold War

  • It’s a stylistic supernova— it actually has so much in common with Cuaron’s Roma—but certainly from Antonioni (l’eclisse, l’avventura)
  •  If it wasn’t brazenly evident already with 2013’s Ida, Pawlikowski has arrived as one of this generation’s greatest filmmakers—and his auteuristic trademarks are firm now, 80-90 minutes in running time, jaw-dropping detail in the mise-en-scene (three films now with this Ida, and The Woman in the Fifth) and now with the crisp, monochrome box frame 1.37 : 1 ratio (two films now with this and Ida).
  • Elliptical editing makes a statement with each elongated pause
  • In many ways I think it’s one of cinema’s great love stories- flawed individuals foiled by themselves (she’s fatalistic and mercurial) and circumstance and political backdrop
  • Again- I think she was forlorn and damaged anyways- so melancholic- Joanna Kulig gives the performance of the year
  • The music is sublime- both the period jazz and the folk music from the opening and in their live performances
  • A reoccurring visual motif that wondrously matches the narrative- is the two lovers at the center in the frame lost in a sea of people but the focus is on them- it’s done again and again- brilliant
  • We have the spot in the woods where they first kiss where they eventually meet years later to take their own life—so tragic- the shot of the year (even in a year with Roma I think) is the Tarkovsky-like Nostalgia shot- so immaculately framed and so well earned formally with the reoccurring use of images and places
the shot of the year (even in a year with Roma I think) is the Tarkovsky-like Nostalgia shot- so immaculately framed and so well earned formally with the reoccurring use of images and places
  • Pawlikowski’s trademark Bergman two-face framing shot
  • Photography that can match any film
  • The narrative is Doctor Zhivago but with the elliptical editing unrequited (or rather tragic) love story we’re more aligned with WKW’s In the Mood for Love
  • The Rock-Around-the-Clock shot/sequence tracking Kulig– magnificent—amongst the best of the decade
  • The haunting finale on the bench—again hard not to recall the bench and frame in L’Avventura’s final shot
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The haunting finale on the bench—again hard not to recall the bench and frame in L’Avventura’s final shot

stylistic innovations/traits:

  • beautiful black and white photography in his best two films- among the best of the decade
1.37:1 box aspect ratio- there was not much of this in 2013 when Pawlikowski did this with Ida– and now it’s everywhere with First Reformed, The Lighthouse, Ghost Story—Pawlikowski certainly an influence
  • Immaculate compositions
  • 1.37: ! box aspect ratio- there was not much of this in 2013 when Pawlikowski did this with Ida– and now it’s everywhere with Frist Reformed, The Lighthouse, Ghost Story—Pawlikowski certainly an influence
  •  Another Pawlikowski trademark- his 80-90 minute running time
  • The images are not only beautiful in isolation but interconnected, repeated, both within their works to make Pawlikowki a strong formal filmmaker—but between his films—to make him an auteur
  •  Austere films
  • Antonnioni’s use of obstructions, soft-focus and architecture – his name and the names of his films are peppered all over this page
  • Bergman or Varda’s face upon a face blocking within the frame
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Bergman or Varda’s face upon a face blocking within the frame — from Cold War here
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a cousin to the shot above– this one from Ida
  • in two two straight films he’s recalling history and the historical political backdrop to tell the haunting story of a two outstanding characters—in each case lives are destroyed by either the Holocaust or Cold war

top 10

  1. Ida
  2. Cold War
  3. The Woman in the Fifth
  4. My Summer of Love

By year and grades

2004- My Summer of Love R
2011- The Woman in the Fifth HR/MS
2013- Ida MP
2018- Cold War MP

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives