A Catholic nun-to-be, Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska), learns that she is Jewish and that her parents were murdered in an anti-Semitic Poland during WWII. The person who discloses this information is Ida’s aunt (Agata Kulesza), a disillusioned former state prosecutor for the Polish commies. . . This is all I wish to say about the plot of the well-received Ida (2014) since so many reviewers have already described it, so I will go on to pronounce it a solid work of art about which Peter Rainer is absolutely right in his view that the film is “about the spiritual agonies of postwar Poland.”
What’s more, it exhibits how people respond to the fragility of their own lives in a place like postwar Poland: Ida, after all, is quietly rattled by what she learns. Patently, there are good responses and bad responses.
Pawel Pawlikowsky, the man who directed the annoying (to me) and ignorant My Summer of Love, has acquitted himself nicely with Ida, a film of black-and-white pictorial benefits. I mean shots such as that of Ida standing in a circular, below-the-ground spot for which the clergy surely have a name and telling a statue of Jesus situated there that she’s not yet ready to take her vows. Or the one where, at a fork in the road, she kneels and prays before a station of the cross while her aunt waits beside her car and smokes. With images like these, the movie cannot escape providing at least hints of depth and significance.
(In Polish with English subtitles)
Style and theme are everything in the exquisitely made Italian film Eclipse, or L’Eclisse (1962), one of the four or five major pictures of Michelangelo Antonioni.
This is the one about Vittoria (Monica Vitti) and Piero (Alain Delon) in the modern age. Here, reinforced by the visual black-white contrasts, indifference and insensitivity eclipse love, worry eclipses passion, aimlessness eclipses belief. For all this, however, Antonioni makes clear that ours is a fascinating world, not only because of nature but also because of what human beings have wrought. Airplanes, light poles along a street, the stock exchange, a rural café—all are presented as having the power to captivate.
Eclipse is less sad than L’Avventura and La Notte, even though, granted, the world of the film is menacing. The closing sequence is famous, and according to Stanley Kauffmann, it has been seen as Antonioni’s “statement that man must come to terms with his new environment before he can love.” This is probably as good an interpretation as any, if interpretation is needed. Whether or not such a sentiment about love is true, though, we are led to observe that, at the film’s end, main character Vittoria certainly seems accepting of her life—obviously a good thing.
(In Italian with English subtitles)
Queen Christina (1934) transcends its flaws. Directed by Rouben Mamoulian and starring Greta Garbo, it relates historical nonsense about the 17th century’s Queen of Sweden who abdicated her throne, but the historical nonsense is not a flaw. We can take comfort, after all, in such elements as S.N. Behrman’s literate dialogue and the disturbing effect of the abdication scene. Mamoulian worked well with what he had, albeit he didn’t have much in the way of production design. For outdoor scenes (not all of them), there is too much studio fakery. Garbo deserved better, I think. Not only is she beautiful, she also supplies just as much femininity and tomboy toughness as Hollywood’s Queen Christina needs. The real Christina—or Kristina—was a lesbian; Garbo’s queen renounces her crown for a man’s love. The man in question is played by John Gilbert, who, unfortunately, overacts for a while. Garbo’s acting is steady.
Queen Christina ought to have been a stronger achievement, but it entertains us all the same. That is all it was meant to do.