Thursday, February 12, 2015

Ida: Poland's Haunting History

Ida is a small but powerful gem from Poland. It has been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film for the 2015 Academy Awards. Set in 1962 and directed by co-writer Pawel Pawlikowski, it is a mere 82 minutes in length.

Ida is memorable just for the two main performances. Agata Trzebuchowska gives a haunting portrayal as Anna/Ida, while Agata Kulesza excels as the haunted Wanka.

Anna is a novice nun who learns about her Jewish origins from her aunt Wanka, a former Stalinist prosecutor. The holocaust legacy, communist rule and the dominance of the Catholic church are all part of the complex backdrop to this quest. Ida's personal search for identity is further complicated by coming face to face with an alien, but enticing secular culture.

The black and white production reflects the bleaker elements of the story and the times. Similarly, the jazz soundtrack underlines the growing alternative spirit amongst youth at the time.

Anyway, in the old cliché, this film is about questions not answers. It's about the personal choices we all must make and their consequences.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Birdman: New York with Mexican twists

Director and co-writer Alejandro González Iñárritu, of Babel fame, has created a very classy film in Birdman.

Forget Hollywood - this is New York cinema with Mexican twists.

There are multiple layers. We have actors playing actors. Michael Keaton, star of Batman, plays Riggan Thomson, a once and possible future super-hero. Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough join him in Riggan's play within a screenplay, an adaptation of Raymond Carver's 'What We Talk about When We Talk about Love'. The bleak realism of Tennessee Williams vies with Latin American magical realism and extraordinary flights of fantasy. This is Streetcar meets Who's Afraid, both on stage and in the dressing rooms.

Emma Stone, as his daughter Sam gives a memorable performance, duelling with both her father and Norton's bad boy character Mike.

It's a visual delight without the bonus of its Birdman special effects. The venue/set is the interior and exterior of Broadway's St. James Theatre. The claustrophobia generated by shooting in the actual building is amplified by the seeming one take direction.

Lindsay Duncan makes a strong if clichéd job of theatre critic Tabitha. Her exchange with Thomson cuts deep. Some of the storyline is a bit predictable but it's easy to forgive. Its classification as a comedy/drama is definitely misleading. It is witty without being sidesplitting. The social media jokes lack bite after a while. Iñárritu is at his best when he wanders the dark side of identity and relationships.

The movie has received multiple Academy Award nominations. Alejandro seems a cert for best director oscar.

[Spoiler: Those who went to see Midnight Cowboy expecting a western were misguided to say the least. Don't expect a comic book blockbuster.]