Ida Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski Written by: Pawel Pawlikowski and Rebecca Lenkiewicz Starring: Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza
Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida is a road movie imbued with a calm, tragic stillness. The story is set in early 1960s Poland, but its atmosphere is a more timeless evocation of post-World War II pain, where smoky lounge bars feel like a distraction from still unhealed national wounds. Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), a novitiate nun preparing to take her vows, is largely sheltered from that world, until she’s instructed to learn more about her past by visiting Wanda (Agata Kulesza), her aunt and only known living relative.
(Spoilers ahead) Not long after she meets Wanda, Anna finds out she’s Jewish, and her real name gives the movie its title. Her family was slaughtered in the war by someone they thought was a friend, and she was spared, taken to a Catholic orphanage as a baby and raised without that knowledge. Throughout the story she is by turns petrified and embarrassed; petrified at the tragic turns of her journey of self-discovery, and embarrassed both by and for her aunt, who lives a very different life than that of a nun-in-waiting.
Vincere Directed by: Marco Bellocchio Written by: Marco Bellocchio & Daniela Ceselli (screenplay) Starring: Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Filippo Timi, Corrado Invernizzi, and Michela Cescon
Benito Mussolini and the exploits of Fascist Italy are criminally underfilmed in the annals of WWII films when compared to Hitler’s Nazi regime. Because Mussolini took a back seat, his atrocities appear to somehow be less atrocious in the eyes of history and film. Vincere, an astounding Italian film from Marco Bellocchio, does not show us his direct rule, but rather slims its focus on his horrendous treatment of his first wife, Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno).
Dalser falls in love with him from the moment she sees him challenge God in a crowded forum. It’s the beginning of his revolution, when he still had time for love between the killing. This isn’t a movie about Mussolini, though. This movie is about Ida, who he abandons for another woman after he goes to war. He leaves a son and a woman scorned behind.
The King’s Speech Directed by: Tom Hooper Written by: David Seidler (screenplay) Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, and Michael Gambon
For many, public speaking is a terrifying undertaking by itself. When you add on the everyday concerns of an English monarch- mounting war, daddy issues, a debilitating speech impediment- it definitely doesn’t help. The King’s Speech surrounds itself with a plethora of talented British character actors, many straight off the Harry Potter set, and has a go at the story of the stuttering King George VI (Colin Firth). In the end unfortunately, it cannot escape what it really is: a cooly calculated period drama bred like a racehorse for Oscar season.
The set-up in and of itself sounds like something you’d hear from many of the nominees for Best Picture. Prior to World War II, we follow the Duke of York as he becomes King of England and tackles a stutter that has plagued him his entire life. He does this with the help of an eccentric teacher (Geoffrey Rush) and a devoted wife (Helena Bonham Carter.) I can almost see a half-drunk celebrity reading that synopsis come Oscar night.
Atonement Directed by: Joe Wright Written by: Christopher Hampton (screenplay), Ian McEwan (novel) Starring: Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan, and Vanessa Redgrave
Atonement isn’t a time capsule for your grandparents. If you’re looking for the lavish period drama with the costumes as the stars, it’s gone with the wind. This movie, yet another adaptation of a well-received if faded from memory book, is a love story for the modern age; that is to say, a pretty damn depressing one.
The movie starts off on a perfect 45-minute grace note, setting up the passionate exchange between Robbie (James McAvoy) and Cecilia (Keira Knightley). Cecilia is a wealthy daughter of an affluent family, Robbie is not. The thing that separates this fairly common class clash is bitter jealousy, brought along in the form of the innocent young Briony (Saoirse Ronan).
For most of the movies’ existence, we’ve had the ability to show color. Nothing personifies the transition from black and white to color more than that immortal transition in The Wizard of the Oz, when the movies took the audience from the bleak colorlessness of everyday life into the beautiful colors of Victor Fleming’s adaptation.
It’s weird, then, that many modern directors’ greatest film making achievements are in black and white. One benefit of it, besides the beauty you can capture without color, is that it may be hard to tell which decade a movie came from. It can make a movie timeless, which is good when you’re talking about subjects like WWII and the Holocaust. To celebrate 100 posts, here is a look back at movie history at directors’ ventures into a world without any vivid color, and how it paid off for them.