• (L - R) 'Cold War', 'Brief Encounter', 'Ida' and 'Frances Ha' (SBS)Source: SBS
The vibrant characters leap off the screen in this collection of classic and modern Black & White films now streaming at SBS On Demand.
SBS Movies

10 Aug 2020 - 3:59 PM  UPDATED 10 Aug 2020 - 3:59 PM


Poland, 2014
Genre: Drama
Language: Polish
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Starring: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska
What's it about?
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, Ida won the 2015 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year. Pawlikowski drew on his own family history for inspiration (his mother is Catholic and his father is Jewish). The film is set in 1960s Poland where Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), a novitiate who was brought up in a convent, is on the verge of taking her vows as a nun. Beforehand, though, she must meet her Aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), who informs Ida that she is Jewish and together they discover a dark family secret dating back to the Nazi occupation. 

When asked why he wanted to make the film in black and white Pawlikowski said, "There's the obvious reason that I remember that period in black and white, and because films at that time were black and white... But more importantly is that I wanted to make it an abstract film. If you do something in black and white, especially if you use that well, you raise everything to a slightly more abstract and universal level."

Ida Review
A Minute With: 'Ida' director Pawlikowski on Oscars, Poland
'Ida' Wins Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film


Cold War

Poland, 2018
Genre: Romance, Drama
Language: Polish
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Starring: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc
What's it about?
If it's visually arresting and it ain't broke, don't fix it. Director Pawel Pawlikowski is back with another beautiful film, teaming up once again with cinematographer Lukasz Zal, who was nominated for an Academy Award and a BAFTA for his work on Ida. With this film, presented in the Academy ratio (1.37:1), Pawlikowski is again inspired by his parents. Cold War takes place in the ruins of post-WWII Poland. Pianist Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) is commissioned by the Soviet state to form a musical ensemble to help rekindle national pride. While touring the villages in search of talent, he falls in love with the beautiful Zula (Joanna Kulig), a fiery and charismatic singer with a past. When a performance in Berlin offers the pair an opportunity for escape to the West, a last-minute decision finds them stranded on either side of the Iron Curtain.

Pawlikowski won Best Director at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival for Cold War, and while it was nominated for three Academy Awards, it was a strong year for black and white films, with Roma winning in those three categories.

Interview with Pawel Pawlikowski (at 15:14) 

Cold War Review
'Cold War': An Intimate Epic

Cold War


Frances Ha

USA, 2013
Genre: Comedy
Language: English
Director: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen
What's it about?
Directed by Noah Baumbach, who co-wrote the film with its lead, Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha is a beautiful film about the endearing Frances (Greta Gerwig), a 20-something dancer living in New York City who is, like so many of us, just a bit unsure about life. She is perennially broke, unfocused and prone to mildly self-destructive behaviour. The film is a modern comic fable that explores the city, friendship, class, ambition, failure and redemption. Being in black and white the film feels completely modern and timeless all at the same time.

On his influences for the film Baumbach said, "A lot of the same movies that have influenced Frances Ha have influenced my other movies. It's just that they are clearer here. Maybe I was just clearer in revealing them and I think the other thing that happens is when you are shooting in black and white suddenly you are thinking of other black and white movies."

Frances Ha: Noah Baumbach interview
Frances Ha review: Greta Gerwig is luminescently 'undateable'
Frances Ha review: If you don’t feel like you’re a real person yet, this is the film for you


Paper Moon

USA, 1973
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama
Language: English
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Starring: Ryan O'Neal, Tatum O'Neal, Madeline Kahn, John Hillerman, Jessie Lee Fulton, Noble Willingham
What's it about?
This 1973 classic from director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show) features real-life father and daughter Ryan and Tatum O'Neal in the lead roles. Based on the novel Addie Pray by Joe David Brown, Paper Moon is a road trip comedy/drama set during the Great Depression. Con man Moses finds himself saddled with a young girl named Addie – who may or may not be his daughter – and the two forge an unlikely partnership. Tatum O'Neal was just 10 years old when she won the 1974 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her debut role in Paper Moon.

Boganovich's mentor and friend, the great Orson Welles, provided uncredited cinematography advice for the film. It was the second film Bogdanovich made in black and white (after The Last Picture Show). On filming in black and white Bogdanovich said, "I have more affection, more affinity for the past. Since I am more interested in it, it comes easier for me."


I Know Where I'm Going!

UK, 1945
Genre: Drama, Romance
Language: English
Director: Emeric Pressburger, Michael Powell
Starring: Roger Livesey, Wendy Hiller
What's it about?
Written and directed by powerhouse duo Michael Powell (The Red Shoes) and Emeric Pressburger (Black Narcissus) the film was made while they were waiting for Technicolor cameras to film A Matter of Life and Death (there was a shortage of cameras due to the war). Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller) is a headstrong young woman who knows exactly where she's going. Her dreams of an easy life come to fruition when she becomes engaged to the wealthy Sir Robert Bellinger (Norman Shelley), who is many years her senior and the head of the company for which she works. But Joan's dream future comes to a screaming halt when bad weather prevents her progression to her new home on the remote island of Kiloran. Stranded on a neighbouring isle, she meets a debonair young naval officer, Torquil (Roger Livesey), and suddenly her plans seem much less definite...

I Know Where I'm Going! Review



France, Germany, 2016
Genre: Drama
Language: German, French
Director: François Ozon
Starring: Pierre Niney, Paula Beer, Ernst Stötzner
What's it about?
Directed by François Ozon (8 Women) this film was nominated for 11 César Awards in 2017, and Pascal Marti won for Best Cinematography, deservedly so. In the aftermath of WWI, a young German woman, Anna (Paula Beer) is grieving the death of her fiancé who was killed in France. She meets a mysterious Frenchman, Adrien (Pierre Niney) who visits the small town to lay flowers at her fiancé's grave. Adrien's presence is met with resistance by the community, still reeling from Germany's defeat, yet Anna gradually becomes closer to the handsome and melancholy young man, as she learns of his deep friendship with Frantz. 

Not filmed entirely in black and white, there are beautiful scenes in colour, which represent flashbacks, contrasting a pre and post war feeling and atmosphere.

Frantz review: Ozon's Lubitsch riff a tender, involving love story


Brief Encounter

UK, 1945
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Director: David Lean
Starring: Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway, Celia Johnson
What's it about?
Directed by David Lean (Doctor Zhivago) this film won the Grand Prize of the Festival at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival. Based on a play by Noël Coward (The Italian Job), this is one of the greats of 1940s British cinema. In this poignant love story, Dr. Alex Harvey (Trevor Howard) and Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson), both middle-class suburbanites, keep meeting in the course of their regular routines and, from casual nods of recognition, move to an acquaintanceship which ripens into deep affection. Both are married parents, but their meetings become brief, meaningful highlights in their workaday lives. Alex arranges access to a friend's apartment where they can spend time together, but the friend's unexpected interruption shocks them into realising what they have allowed to happen.



France, 2005
Genre: Drama
Language: French
Director: Luc Besson
Starring: Rie Rasmussen, Jamel Debbouze, Gilbert Melki
What's it about?
Writer and director Luc Besson's second black and white film (after his debut feature Le Dernier Combat), Angel-A tells the story of André (Jamel Debbouze), a kind-hearted small-time crook who owes a large sum of money to one of Paris's most ruthless gangsters. If the money isn't repaid by midnight, the crime boss promises to kill him. Unable to find the money or protection, André in his desperation heads to a bridge over the river Seine with the intention to jump. But when he gets there he is surprised to see a tall, beautiful girl clinging to a rail on the same bridge, apparently preparing to end her life as well. When he saves her, Angela (Rie Rasmussen) pledges her life to André and promises to help him.

When asked about why he filmed in black and white, the idea of contrast and fairy tales seemed to resonate for Besson, "in the film everything is in contrast. She's a woman, he's a man. She's tall, he's small. Blonde, brown... And also, you know colour. The colour is today, the colour is real, the colour is aggressive in a way. The black and white goes with the music. The two of them together and you're floating with it. You don't really know if it's true or not."


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