Pawlikowski’s tale is dark but hauntingly beautiful

Pawlikowski’s tale is dark but hauntingly beautiful A scene from Ida (2013)

Ida is a Pawel Pawlikowski film about an 18-year-old orphan girl raised in a convent. As she prepares to become a nun she learns she’s a Jew. Her parents were murdered during the Holocaust. She has to put doubts about her vocation behind her as her cynical aunt helps her explore her roots.

Shot in black and white with enormous care given to every frame, this is a bleak but beautiful tale of Ida’s journey through conflicting emotions. It’s a work of raw but haunting beauty.

You might also like to check out Pawlikowski’s equally haunting Cold War, a minimalistic piece about a doomed love affair in post-war Poland. It’s an audio-visual symphony of riches, a mutedly haunting work.

I spent a lot of time working as a courier so I know about the pressures the lead character undergoes in Sorry We Missed You – parking tickets, the expense of running a van, difficult clients, running up and down stairs at the rate of knots, a boss barking instructions in the thick of traffic.

He has fierce money problems. They aren’t helped when his son turns against him. This is a heart-rending tale of a man on the edge. He tries desperately to make ends meet but finally runs out of road when a cruel boss fails to cut him slack.

“Am I your guinea pig?” asks Charles Moritz of Felicity Jones in On the Basis of Sex. It charts changes in the law on sexual discrimination spearheaded by crusading lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’s an interesting question. She uses a man to pioneer female liberation.

This is in the tradition of Mrs Deeds Goes to Town and Mr Smith Goes to Washington. It drags in the middle with its didacticism but you really root for her in the climactic scene. History is made. You can buy this online like all the other films I’m mentioning here.

Francois Cluzet’s Untouchable deals with the friendship between a black carer and a paraplegic millionaire. It moves at a mile a minute. The unusual pair bond in unusual circumstances. It won many awards in France and has travelled well.

Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit is set against the backdrop of the 1967 riots. A tale of police violence against African-Americans, it has huge reverberations for us today in the aftermath of the recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Bigelow grabs us by the throat from the first frame and doesn’t let go.

Two kidnap films I bought recently are The Berlin Syndrome and Everybody Knows. The former requires a strong stomach but is darkly compelling in its investigation of psychosis and the Stockholm syndrome.

Everybody Knows is a phenomenal film too, a masterpiece of intensity. Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem are at the top of their game. They try to deal with the fallout from the disappearance of Cruz’s daughter from a wedding reception. Every moment of this one is magic.