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.
Battle Royale Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku Written by: Kenta Fukasaku (screenplay), Koushun Takami (novel) Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Chiaki Kuriyama, and Reiko Kataoka
The age old question “What would you do to stay alive?” has been explored to death. A unique take on an old adage is always welcome, and Kinji Fukasaku’sBattle Royale hoped to deliver that. Does it succeed? Kind of.
In a futuristic vision of Japan, the children are too unruly. So, a classroom of 40 children is selected at random each year to partake in a brutal three day free-for-all on an island until only one remains. If more than one remains, the collars placed around their necks will detonate. Then the survivor returns to the country, striking fear into the others with their stories of the horror.
This is a film that could be analyzed to death by philosophers and historians as to what exactly it means in the context of Japanese history. Is it an allegory to Japan’s involvement in World War II? Is it a statement about individualism in a country that is notoriously solidified and stubborn in combat? It’s both, and they kind of mesh, which is why the film could be looked at so deeply.