"Life Feels Good" and "Ida"
The latest films by directors Maciej Pieprzyca and Paweł Pawlikowski have recently premiered at international film festivals. Screening in Main Competition of the World Film Festival in Montreal, Chce się żyć (Life Feels Good) enjoyed wide acclaim, winning the festival’s Grand Prize, Audience Award and Ecumenical Jury Prize. Meanwhile Ida screened at the Telluride Film Festival, USA. Below is a selection of reviews of these two films (both of which had been co-financed by the Polish Film Institute) in the international press.
Chce się żyć (Life Feels Good): An Entertaining Film on a Serious Subject
Dawid Ogrodnik. Photo by Marcin Kułakowski, Polish Film Institute
“Neither tearfully sentimental nor coldly scientific, ‘Life Feels Good’, Maciej Pieprzyca’s film about a man with cerebral palsy struggling to communicate to those around him that he is an intelligent, sentient human being, instead proves oddly entertaining,” states Ronnie Scheib in the opening lines of a review for Variety.
A Well-Balanced Axis
“Pieprzyca situates the central axis of his film in that gap between the emotional vegetable, seen by even the kindliest, and the smart, quite sardonic ‘inner Mateusz’ manifested in his interior monologues and extremely expressive eyes. His erratic movements and unintelligible sounds register less as symptoms of disease than as a language that others are too unimaginative to interpret,” reads the Variety piece.
Critics agree on the extraordinary acting of both Dawid Ogrodnik and Kamil Tkacz, who played the role of Mateusz at different ages. “Brilliantly thesped by non-disabled actors playing the character as both child and grown-up, the film captures as much wonderment as frustration, and is filled with fully fleshed-out characters that defy simple categorization,” writes Ronnie Scheib.
As Nadia Slejskova writes in her News Reel blog: “The role of the main character Mateusz is superbly played by the Polish actor Dawid Ogrodnik. He really deserves a prize for his skillful and sensitive portrayal of the character’s handicap. The role required not only the character study but also a physical training to be able to twist his joints in conceivable and plausible ways.”
A review for www.livrecinema.com ranks Chce się żyć (Life Feels Good) at 9.5/10 and features favourable comments about Dawid Ogrodnik’s performance: “The main actor, Dawid Ogrodnik, reveals an exceptional talent. When seeing him in person, one has to wonder where he found the strength to take on such a role. His reply is: ‘I don’t know, but I am religious. With the help of prayer and work, I was able to convince people that I could portray this character.’ And so he does – with panache and without the use of any dialogue.”
A Touching and Moving Film
The review for www.livrecinema.com also emphasizes other aspects of Maciej Pieprzyca’s film: “[Chce się żyć (Life Feels Good) is a] touching and very moving film. Like the main character, crawling around on his back, the camera is often at his level, which allows us to understand his point of view. Exceptional music composed by Bartosz Chajdecki adds a poetic side to the story.”
Ida: A Strong, Raw Film
Annette Insdorf of The Watch describes Paweł Pawlikowski’s latest feature in the following words: “Ida, a powerful drama set in 1962 Poland, illustrates Jean Renoir’s motto, ‘The more emotional the material, the less emotional the treatment.’ Directed by Paweł Pawlikowski from a screenplay he co-wrote with […] Rebecca Lenkiewicz, the black-and-white film has a style reminiscent of Haneke. Its austerity is appropriate to the character of the heroine Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), a novice about to take her vows.”
Reviewing the Telluride film festival for The Wall Street Journal, Joe Morgenstern placed Ida on his personal list of top four films of the festival: “Stripped of superfluous technique, this exquisite feature explores national as well as personal identity […]. Ida is a testament to how much more less can be […].”
A Nuanced Examination of Women
Ida is the story of an encounter between two women: a young nun who learns of her Jewish heritage and a communist who is her only living relative. Both women set out on a journey that is to help them not only learn about the tragic fate of their family, but also discover the truth about who they are. In a review for Variety, Peter Debruge writes: “On some superficial level, Ida follows the arc of their investigation, though it would have been far easier for Pawlikowski to craft his film as a generic detective story. Significantly, he downplays the search in favor of a more nuanced examination of these two women: one an idealist completely naive to the real world, the other a cynic who can scarcely cope with the hypocrisy and inhumanity she’s seen.”
Gorgeously Photographed Drama
According to Peter Debruge, Ida is a “gorgeously photographed black-and white drama.”
Joe Morgenstern notes the film’s “literally square screen – so figuratively square as to seem revolutionary […].
Annette Insdorf also comments on the film’s framing style: “The characters are consistently placed so low in the frame that the unpopulated space above them seems to weigh down. Is Pawlikowski suggesting how far they are from heaven?”
A Mesmerizing Agata Trzebuchowska
The role of the nun was played by Agata Trzebuchowska, with Ida marking her big-screen debut. As Variety states: “She’s mesmerizing to watch, and yet, neither her performance nor the direction manage to penetrate what’s brewing behind those enigmatic eyes – dark windows into an inscrutable soul.”
Pawlikowski’s Richest Work
“Ida touches on both the legacy of the Holocaust and the realities of postwar Communism with apt sorrow and an equally apt touch of fatalistic humor,” comments A.O. Scott for The New York Times writting about Pawlikowski’s film in the context of potential Oscar candidates.
“Ida is [Paweł Pawlikowski]’s richest work to date. It’s not the only film to address the growing number of Poles who discover, as adults, that they were born Jewish. Nor is it unique in exploring the culpability of some Poles towards their Jewish neighbours during the Holocaust. The upcoming release Aftermath, for example, has stirred controversy in Poland for its depiction of wartime guilt. But if Aftermath could be considered a shout, Ida is a whisper, a series of revelations all the more devastating for their quiet presentation,” summarizes Annette Insdorf.
In an interview for DFI-Film, the Danish producers of Ida (Phoenix Film) discussed why they decided to become involved in the production of this film: “The film is about injustice and familial relationships. These are the kind of issues that Phoenix Film is typically attracted to. We fell for Paweł Pawlikowski’s story. When an experienced, award-winning director comes along with such a great screenplay, we can’t turn it down,” said Christian Falkenberg Husum, executive producer of Ida.
In Anticipation of Toronto Screenings
On September 7, Ida was screened at the 38th Toronto International Film Festival. Paweł Pawlikowski’s feature has been placed on the Toronto Star’s ‘Chasing the Buzz’ online poll at www.thestar.com as one of the most anticipated films of the festival, alongside the latest films from Steve McQueen, Ron Howard, and Kelly Reichardt. In the words of TIFF festival director Piers Handling: “Making his first film in his native Poland after building a career in the U.K. […], Paweł Pawlikowski delves deep into recent Polish history with a heartbreaking, but beautifully controlled, black-and-white film […].”
A Storytelling Without Unnecessary Beats
The reviews after Toronto screenings are enthusiastic. According to Anthony Kaufman writting for Screen Daily “Ida is the embodiment of efficient storytelling, without a single superfluous beat” that “reaffirms Pawlikowski’s status as an important world auteur”.
Jordan Hoffman at badassdigest.com writes: “From its opening shot Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida is a beautiful puzzle. In varying shades of charcoal gray a young nun is discovered in an unadorned room. It is a composed image straight out of Carl Theodor Dreyer – then something remarkable happens. The central figure (Agata Trzebuchowska) moves, and it is a much more fluid movement than the silent cinema this tableau evokes. Ida is shot on video, but lit, designed, framed and formatted for an earlier era. The result is one of the most striking visual experiences of the year.”
The complete text of the quoted reviews of Chce się żyć (Life Feels Good) are available at the following links: Variety, News Reel and livrecinema.com (French only). Articles on Ida are available at: The Watch, The Wall Street Journal, Variety, The New York Times, thestar.com, Screen Daily, badassdigest.com and dfi-film.dk.