The first thing to state about this beautiful movie is that it’s monochrome. So stunningly so that at times you feel you are in a photographic gallery rather than a cinema. The quality of the cinematography is quite extraordinary thanks to Lucas Zal.
It’s also in 4:3 format. Not the square format of Instagram, but close.
We don’t see 4:3 very often these days but Wes Anderson used it to immense effect in Grand Budapest Hotel and so did Lazslo Melis in Son of Saul.
It’s an engaging format that draws you in. It suggests a time before cinemascope (16:9 etc) and only really works in period cinema of a time.
But it also lends itself to incredible framing, such as when our female protagonist floats down a river gradually disappearing out of shot, and later in the movie when the chief protagonists leave a bus and walk out of frame in a composition that Henri Cartier Breson would be proud of.
It’s one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen in many years.
In truth that’s probably its biggest strength.
It is, but it isn’t really, narrative driven. More episodic than story, but it does tell a tale about director Pawel Pawlikowski’s parents’ love affair set against the Cold War backdrop in his native Poland.
It’s fairly sordid in a way (his mother was abused by her father as a child) but without anything shocking to see.
The two leads ( Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot) are magnificent. Brooding, beautiful (although unconventionally so) and real.
Lucas Zal has a great time dwelling on three particular things. Crowd shots. Amazing, Dance sequences. Amazing. Joanna Kulig (the lead). Amazing.
In particular, Joanna Kulig has a stand out performance. She’s not one to show her enjoyment in life. Sullen most would say. But it is an immense performance.
It’s a love story, set against the challenges that Cold War Poland put in front of people of artistic belief where communist doctrine made creativity very difficult.
What Pawel Pawlikowski achieves is a mood piece of exemplary, peerless really, detail.
And it’s a musical.
I was constantly drawn to comparing it to La La Land, yet it is so NOT La La Land. Partly it’s down to Kulig who shares the unorthodox looks (beauty) of Emma Stone. Partly it’s the framing of scenes by Zal.
And the music fuses from Polish country folk to French basement jazz (which La La Land would have been so comfortable with).
This is an Oscar nomination shoe in. It’s absolutely brilliant.
And, at 88 minutes, certainly does not outstay its welcome.
A Straight 10 from me.