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.
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
- 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 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)
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
- Abstract shallow 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
- Shallow-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 shallow 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 shallow 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
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
- 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
- beautiful black and white photography in his best two films- among the best of the decade
- 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, shallow-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
- 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
- Cold War
- The Woman in the Fifth
- My Summer of Love
By year and grades
|2004- My Summer of Love||R|
|2011- The Woman in the Fifth||HR/MS|
|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
Ida is gorgeous. Best film of 2013.
@Azman— What are your best films choices after Ida ?
His work is sublime. There is not one contemporary filmmaker one can compare to him and I think you have done incredible work in analysing his films above. I believe that Cold War is the film that solidified Pawlikowski’s place as one of the best auteurs working today and proved that Ida was not pure luck. I have not watched the Woman in the Fifth yet, but I will seek it out, having read your review of it. I also need to rewatch Ida and Cold War in order to get into more detail on them as well. His oeuvre is so unique, and he’s only made three films as of 2020.
@Georg– I agree here on your comment about Cold War solidifying Pawlikowski’s place. I hope his next fim further cements it. Maybe it’ll take years- but after getting nominated for three Oscars maybe he has more clout than ever now and can move quicker.
*accidentally posted that comment as a reply to the comment by Cinephile
@Cinephile, @Drakes 2013 list is great (like all of his lists)
I dont really rank movies in order @Cinephile. My list is a mix of Drake’s tier ranking system and Ebert’s Great movies list. I think this is the best way to rank movies(in my opinion). I dont like splitting hairs.
Anyways some other great 2013 movies are 12 years a slave(mcqueen’s work is amazing), gravity(Cuarons brilliant too), of course llewelyn Davis, under the skin etc. I’ll need to look at my Google Sheets for more 2013 movies I have watched. These are some films of the top of my head.
What about you Cinephile? What are your favorite movies? What do you think about the movies I mentioned?
@Azman– The films you mentioned are superb. All in my top 10 of 2013. My list would look like this:
3. Inside Llewyn Davis
4. Under the Skin
5. The Great Beauty
6. The Wolf of Wall Street
7. 12 Years a Slave
8. American Hustle
9. Only God Forgives
10. The Immigrant
– Blue is the Warmest Color
Great list. Obviously there are a few films that are missing on your list that Drake and I would have (before midnight for example). However, overall our lists are pretty similar. There will always be some disagreement/subjectivity.
How can you split hairs with such great movies? For example how is Wall Street slightly better than 12 years a slave? When ranking movies, there could be a tendency for recency bias or maybe a few things you missed. That’s my reason for not ranking each movie separately as a list. It keeps changing too.
@Azman— Before Midnight is not missing because I don’t think its worthy but because I need to see it again, I’ve only watched it when it came out and I need a revisit.
Great page, i thought to comment on the page of each review, but i’ll do it here
His films are so tight, there are no weak moments, i love it, i was able to go through Ida and Cold War in less than 3 hr
I had never seen Ida, what an impressive movie
My question here, is Ida really better than Cold War? I just saw them in a row and i’m not sure.
What Ida does best in your opinion?
@Aldo- thanks– wow- good for you getting to these two great films. What a night! haha. I’m not confident Ida is superior to Cold War. I have them very close– both spectacular
You watched Ida and cold war back to back? Yikes. That must have been depressing.
Ida is the better movie. The crisp B and W photography and the taut narrative along with the acting were great.
Which Pawlikowski masterpiece should I watch first, Ida or Cold War?
@Graham- I mean if it is available do Ida first– when possible I always try to go in the order the movies were made
Both, it will take you less than 3 hours to see both.
But if you don’t feel like seeing a sad movie, see Ida first.
@Aldo and @Zane- unbelievably beautiful films– but tough 3 hour sit. And Ida is no barrel of sunshine either
Yep haha. Well it was Aldo who said that about Ida, not me.
They’re not long but I’d see Ida first myself. If you have Amazon Prime you can watch both back to back in like 3 hours.
I think Cold War is his best honestly. Like Ida is his grand announcement in a sense (not that it isn’t a MP of course), but Cold War is just the full realization of Pawlikowski’s abilities. And I think Kulig’s performance (not that Tomasz Kot isn’t great, but it’s a Ferzetti vs Vitti in L’Avventura comparison; the male performance is great but overshadowed by his tremendous female co-star. Also this film is similar to L’Avventura for countless reasons as well and don’t get me started on listing them) is able to overwhelm the balancing of the two opposite performances by Trzebuchowna and Kulesza in Ida. And Ida’s style is more reserved whilst Pawlikowski allows for more flexibility in Cold War, like with the greater camera movement (which, if I remember correctly, didn’t quite show up in Ida till that final sequence) such as in the scene with Kulig dancing while drunk at the club which is just an unbelievable tracking shot. I also felt the editing in Cold War was stronger than that of Ida.
You make some excellent points. I have Ida a hair above Cold War but this makes me think I’ll need to revisit them again.
@Zane- great stuff here- You could be right. But I can’t see someone having putting up a big fight for one over the other, right? They make for quite a pair.
Oh I’m not really putting up a serious fight, since there’s no reason to; they’re both excellent films. I’m just saying why I personally would pick Cold War as close as it and Ida are.
My Summer of Love R
The Woman in the Fifth —
Cold War HR
Exciting news here- https://theplaylist.net/joaquin-phoenix-rooney-mara-join-pawel-pawlikowskis-new-drama-the-island-20221024/
@ Drake. Brilliant news. Could cast Joanna Kulig as the countess or maybe Lea Seydoux.
Really looking forward to it.
@AP- Certainly should be one of the most anticipated of the year (hopefully 2023?)
@ Drake. Absolutely. What a 2023 it could be for Phoenix. Aster and Pawlikowski. WOW.
Napolean with Ridley Scott as well.
He also has the Joker sequel in 2024. Not close to the top 2 but still something to look forward to. What a line-up.
@AP- Hadn’t even thought about that if it does end up in 2023. Pawlikowski does take his time though (and who can argue with those results?). Either way- Joaquin is certainly in some promising projects