Pawel Pawlikowski returns to his native Poland for the story of an orphaned young Jewish woman (Kulesza) who, on the verge of becoming a nun, accompanies her aunt (Trzebuchowski) on a more prosaic, but no less significant journey: to discover her parents’ fate during the Nazi occupation. The stage is set for a tale as bleak and chilly as a Warsaw winter, but beneath the icy surface, emotions run surprisingly deep, thanks to a captivating central performance of the less-is-more variety. Equally striking is the cinematography: Pawlikowski has a photographer’s eye for composition, and every crisp monochrome frame could be a postcard from Poland’s tragic, turbulent past.
VERDICT Pawlikowski’s return to his native Poland has gifted us with a film that feels like something Kubrick could have made early in his career, if his parents hadn’t left Poland for the Bronx. ★★★★