Pawel Pawlikowski’s new film is as severe & beautiful as late Dreyer or early Bresson. Shot, by Ryszard Lenczewski & Lukasz Zal, in a nonjudgmental, pearly gray monotone, it’s an origin story of a young Polish woman in the early 1960s, on the cusp of taking her vows to become a nun. An orphan, she’s surprised to hear she has an Aunt, surprised to be sent to meet her in the city, then even more surprised to discover she was born a Jew. The rest of the film, something of a road pic, has the worldly Aunt, a former judge during the communist doctrinaire ‘50s, and this young girl of untested faith following clues that lead to some very dark areas in their past. Pawlikowski has an unusually precise visual style, using various framing devices & a largely static camera in classic Academy Ratio, then placing his cast toward the bottom of his double-framed pictures. Only after some personal revelations & catharses does he move the compositions’ center-of-gravity to the middle of the screen, as if a great weight has been lifted. The device sounds flat & obvious on the page, but proves effective, even moving in practice. And by holding tight to the personal, the film gains something universal.
DOUBLE-BILL: Fred Zinnemann’s THE NUN’S STORY/’59 is all event-filled narrative compared to this, yet while it ends rather than begins in WWII, the films’ endings tie them together in an intriguing manner.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The DVD from Music Box retains Pawlikowski’s preferred boxy Academy Ratio, but has it mastered in anamorphic/16x9 WideScreen, using black bars to achieve the correct 1.33:1 image. Viewed in Standard Format, you’d wind up with a 1:1 image. Oops!