20:35pm Charlie Kino, Piotrkowska 203/205
My Łodż cinema marathon ended up back where it all began for me in this city. Charlie Kino (or Kino Charlie) was the first cinema that I attended in Łódź, when I went to see a screening of Requiem for a Dream if memory serves. Back in 2001 Charlie Kino was outwardly no different from how it looks today, but back then it only consisted of one auditorium, whereas now it has three separate auditoria. The cinema is Łódź’s most important independent film theatre, having been founded by an organisation of film artists and enthusiasts back in 1994. The cinema is tucked away in a run-down looking courtyard off of the northern end of Piotrkowska, in the ‘Manhattan’ area of the city. It is actually housed on the second floor of a former government building and the owners of the cinema have gradually extended this upstairs space to allow for two smaller screens and a functional bar area. Much of the charm and pleasure of Charlie Kino is the ramshackle, almost homemade quality of the space, with lots of movie memorabilia and paraphernalia dotted around the compact foyer and the theatres themselves. The cinema has traditionally been the location of choice for minor film arts festivals in the city, as well as the more avant-garde cinematic fare that wouldn’t normally be picked up by the chain cinemas. In recent years to protect its niche in a more saturated multiplex market, it has focused much more attention on European and non-English language cinema.
Emotionally I have a strong bond with Charlie Kino, as it is so reminiscent of my favourite cinema spaces from back home, such as The Other Cinema in Soho, the Croydon Clocktower cinema, or the Filmhouse in Edinburgh. It acts as a miniature temple to film, a sacred public place in which film is taken as seriously as any religion and patrons unapologetically think of themselves as cinephiles. However, my faith in Charlie’s extra-commercial causes does not prevent me from harshly commenting on the rather woeful third screen (Sala Klubowa) in which I finally was able to catch up with Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. This tiny screen is no more than a home projector put up in an office that is separated from the foyer by a narrow sliding panel. There are no fixed seats in this space, but rather some horrendously uncomfortable Ikea kitchen furniture laid out in narrow rows. Due to the fact that the projector screen is placed fairly high up in the room, I had to crane my head uncomfortably upwards to watch, with absolutely no head support for the duration of the 90 minute running time.
Yes, there are lots of lovely little quaint artifacts and objet d’art, such as an ornate coatstand, a glass chandelier and a post-war Warsaw produced television set, but this should not detract from the bum-numbing, neck fracturing discomfort of sitting through a film in this ill-suited space. Many of these complaints could have been ignored if at least the projection was clean and proportionate, but instead it was almost as bad as the Cinema City effort, with a hideously grainy quality throughout the first half hour, or so. The fact that Charlie charge 14 zł for such screenings doesn’t do it any favours, but I will say that my experiences on the two larger screens have generally been much more satisfactory with Sala Studyjna being fairly close to the scale and precision of Bałtyk’s presentations.
Cinema Experience: 4.5/10
I’d purposefully avoided this latest Woody Allen release, as I’d been so thoroughly disillusioned with the utterly objectionable Whatever Works (a film that felt both pretentious and lazy, as well as squandering the combined talents of two fantastic actresses in Evan Rachel Wood and Patricia Clarkson). Allen’s cinematic output has been in an interminable decline for many years now, with only a few brief upswings of the likes of Match Point to consider. The idea of Woody patronising Paris in the same way he had done with London and Barcelona didn’t make me any keener to see this latest ‘return to form’. The impact of Whatever Works had actually been so profound that I had significantly re-evaluated my attitude toward Allen’s oeuvre as a whole, coming to the unsatisfying conclusion that even at his best in the likes of Take the Money and Run, Sleeper, Manhattan, Zelig and Crimes and Misdemeanors, his movies were in essence nothing more than the extended miseries of a chauvinistic misanthrope, who already looked out-of-touch with the times in his 1970’s heyday.
Midnight in Paris by no means sets the world alight and I’d resist describing it as one of Allen’s best works, but it does at least entertain, which is more than can be said for almost any of his films since Bullets over Broadway. It’s in the same magical-realist mode as Play it Again, Sam, The Purple Rose of Cairo and Zelig, with Owen Wilson being cast as the most un-Allen of recent Woody protagonists. Wilson plays Gil, an American screenwriter in Paris with his bride-to-be Inez (played with privileged self-centredness by Rachel McAdams). One night whilst mooching around Paris trying to find his way back to the hotel, Gil is whisked off in a 1920’s carriage-car, by people who claim to be Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. What ensues is a delightfully broad comedy about nostalgia, which manages to excuse Woody’s whimsically romantic notions about European cities by making the romance of nostalgia a central theme.
Wilson is an effortlessly engaging presence, who strikes up the necessary chemistry with Marion Cotillard, who plays his 1920’s love interest a fashion designer who would prefer to be living in Belle Epoque Paris. There are also some amusing cameos, in particular Adrien Brody’s daft turn as a rhinoceros-obsessed Dali. Overall the comedy isn’t as witty as it things, but is nonetheless affectionate, which differentiates it strongly from Allen’s more resolutely downbeat and vindictive recent fare. The biggest disappointment about the movie is that it doesn’t explore in more detail the idea of Gil’s influencing the developments of the past (aside from a brief gag about The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie). My film night ended on a staggeringly coincidental note, as Léa Seydoux turns up as the possible love interest toward the end of the movie, having also been one of the first screen presences in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, way back at 9:30 this morning. One of Łódź’s great urban rhythms is this sense of reoccurring moments of serendipity. After all it was the home of that great director of coincidences Krzysztof Kieślowski.
Film Rating: 6/10