This is the official submission from Poland to the 91st Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. It won in that category at the National Board of Review, which was the first awards or critical group to hand out that award. It swept the European Film Awards, winning five categories there, including Best Screenwriter, Best Director and Best European Film. It’s not ranked as high as other films from other countries like South Korea and Japan. Plus, the writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski previously won the Oscar for his last movie Ida (2014) at the 87th Academy Awards, so that might prevent his film from winning again.
His film follows a couple in love whom meet in the years after World War II and continue until the early to mid 1960’s. This time period saw the conflicts and tensions between certain countries, so much so that the era of about 40 years was referred to as the Cold War. The director here is able to integrate or weave those conflicts and tensions into this core romance rather effectively.
Tomasz Kot stars as Wiktor Warski, a man in charge of a music company. He has to choose a troupe of singers and dancers to perform in a series of stage shows. He directs the shows, acting as a counselor of those on stage as well as the musicians in the orchestra. He’s a bit gruff but he’s tall and handsome, a rougher Clark Gable or Cary Grant-type.
Joanna Kulig co-stars as Zula Lichón, one of the singers and dancers who comes to audition for Wiktor in 1949. Wiktor is immediately smitten with Zula’s talent and beauty. She’s comparable to the female character in the recent A Star is Born (2018). However, Kulig’s character isn’t as naive or as meek as Lady Gaga’s character.
Pawlikowski garners great performances from his actors and crafts what is a very heated and very sensual romance. It’s not hampered by its black-and-white cinematography that is frame-by-frame gorgeous. It’s also not boxed in by its almost box-like, Academy ratio. He continues his style, established in Ida, which was also nominated for Best Cinematography, and makes it as applicable here as he did in his previous work.
I’m not as in love with his editing here. The narrative feels very episodic. The editing in that way is choppy. The whole thing never feels like a cohesive piece. It feels like bits and pieces strung together. In that regard, it can come off like certain biopics do. This film is a kind of biopic of the courtship of Pawlikowski’s parents, but it doesn’t sweep like a singular arc. A Star is Born does have that singular arc. This film though is more like a series of vignettes than one cohesive story.
However, this foreign film in b&w by an acclaimed auteur isn’t the only one of its kind contending for the Oscar. The other is Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma. Mostly, the two are very different and any similarities are superficial, but I believe this film is more emotionally satisfying than Roma.
Rated R for some sexual content, nudity and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 28 mins.