International Oscar Showdown 2015: Birdman vs Ida

The 87th Academy Awards winners for Best Picture and Best International Feature Film were Birdman and Ida

A movie to Marvel at

Birdman, Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is the story of washed-up Hollywood actor Riggan Thomson, seeking to reinvent himself from his waning commercial success as a superhero icon into an artistic and meaningful Broadway performer. His play is blighted by hilarious and humiliating mishaps, money worries and a mischievous replacement cast member. Meanwhile, Riggan struggles to appease his disaffected daughter, a drifting girlfriend, a brutally honest ex-wife and his subconscious manifesting as Birdman himself.

Alejandro Iñárritu’s Birdman, Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman, Or (I Don’t Know How To Use Brackets)

The convention to give something two titles is as old as science fiction itself, though the misuse of parentheses is an obscure choice. Mary Shelley — widely credited with inventing sci-fi in the early 1800s — titled her magnum opus Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Indeed, books of that era were not shy of doubling up on titles: Pamela: or Virtue Rewarded; Moby-Dick: or, The Whale; even Charles Darwin was at it with On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

I’ve no Ida

The 2015 winner of Best Foreign-Language Film was widely tipped to be Russian drama Leviathan, but Paweł Pawlikowski’s drama Ida– about a Polish nun discovering her Jewish heritage — ultimately struck the hearts of the judges.

Paweł Pawlikowski’s Ida

Here for the ratio

Pawlikowski chose to shoot the film in the old television aspect ratio of 4:3, which, though an unusual choice, lends itself well to the 1960s era, but also to the stylised cinematography. Filmed in black and white with mostly static angles, the subject of the frame tends to be in the bottom fifth of the screen, which, coupled with the narrower image, makes Ida appear small and less in control of her story. She is constantly diminished by the cold, bleak reality above and around her, as though she is but a footnote in her own life. She is most commanding of the screen when she is alone, her habit removed, either lying awake in bed or contemplating her face in the mirror.

Retrospective result

It’s an interesting duel, this week, between a film that mocks cerebral art, and a cerebral film.

Writer of stories, movie reviews, and sundry other whims. Also a sub-editor, so you are welcome to shout at me about typos.

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