Pawel Pawlikowski

Music Box Films

When we colloquially use the term “photogenic,” we sometimes mistake it to refer to things that are conventionally attractive: a pretty vase, a breathtaking landscape, a supermodel. But photogenic is a quality that simply attracts the eye when captured – objects, events, and people that seem befitted to the strengths of photography, or things that, when framed a particular way, draw the eye in. Sure, Brad Pitt is photogenic, but so is Boris Karloff. Photogenic is not a term of evaluation, but a term of function: an ancient cavern can be photogenic, as can a bloody war zone. Thus, the fact that cinema can and has long depicted tragedy, horror and detritus in ways that are evocative and even beautiful has never been a paradox. Cinema uses the tools of what Jean Epstein referred to as “photogenie” to take viewers into a perspectival space, where they are asked to look at and examine people and events in ways they might not be drawn to in other contexts. The photogenic draw has rarely blocked the potential meaning or depth of the thing photographed. Yet while watching Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida, I found myself experiencing something I don’t think I have before. I was drawn in by the incredible beauty of Ida‘s photography to the point of alienation from the complex story through which such images unfolded in front of me.

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Books and films are two very different mediums capable of eliciting the same reactions of joy, disappointment and every emotion in between. Both are essential, but they each have at least one distinctly related advantage over the other. Books rely on descriptions to create their world, but it’s ultimately up to the reader to envision what that world and its inhabitants look like. On the flip side of that, movies allow storytellers to show viewers exactly what they want them to see while still leaving open the option of interpretation. Tom (Ethan Hawke) is an American writer/college lecturer who arrives in Paris anxious to see his wife and young daughter after an extended absence. It’s only when he arrives at their residence that we begin to suspect this may not be a traditionally happy reunion. His wife is clearly upset to find him on her doorstep, and after he politely barges in to see their daughter the woman phones the police to report that he’s breaking a restraining order issued due to past violent behavior. Tom runs from the police only to have his suitcase and wallet stolen while asleep on a bus. Devoid of baggage and identity he struggles to retain his family, security and sanity in the face of an uncertain menace that threatens to bring him past his breaking point. What exactly that menace is, and how far Tom will go to combat it aren’t always clear, but neither is much else in The Woman in the […]

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The Woman in the Fifth

The basic premise of The Woman in the Fifth is that Ethan Hawke is playing an American writer who moves to Paris and strikes up a romance with a mysterious widow played by Kristin Scott Thomas. After hearing this you probably immediately get visions of the two actors sipping espressos at street side cafes, browsing for books at kiosks set up along the Seine, you know… doing Parisy-type stuff. But The Woman in the Fifth isn’t that sort of movie at all. It’s much darker, and more disturbing. How do I know? Because in the film’s new trailer there’s all sorts of spooky music and Ethan Hawke is talking in Christian Bale’s Batman voice. That’s how.

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