Last week at the Cans film festival, thousands of lucky fans, critics and members of the film community were treated to a sold out premiere screening of the much anticipated new movie, Pollack: A Martha Story. Reuniting Martin Scorsese as director and Paul Schraeder as writer, Pollack stars character actress Margot Martindale as Cornell’s very own beloved president, following her through the early years of her life. It opens from humble beginnings, with Martha only a student at Dartmouth — one of the worst schools in the Ivy League — and follows her as she works her way up to become a graduate student at a marginally better Ivy League school. It charts serious setbacks (serving as an administrator at a public university) and brilliant accomplishments, such as working in the field of AI a mere decade before it actually got exciting. Scorsese films each titillating scene with his trademark flourishes, and presents the hallowed halls of academia in the same manner that he’s previously captured the Mafia, Wall Street Criminals and Gilded Age politicians.
Of course, every biopic is only as good as its central romance, and Pollack is no exception, featuring a brilliant turn from Tilda Swinton as Vice President Ryan Lombardi. The two have electrifying chemistry, even as they traverse a muddy path from foes to friends to lovers, and the conclusion of their plot was an exhilarating moment.
The third act of the film is particularly powerful. In a climactic moment, Martha makes the tough decision to implement at Cornell a series of moderate reforms to sorority and fraternity life. The event, based on Martha’s real accomplishment from 2018, is met with raucous applause from the Student Assembly and celebrations all around campus. It’s painted with the deft brush of hindsight, as we now l know that these reforms changed frat culture for good, transforming Cornell into the model for a positive fraternity life.
The most exciting aspect of the film for me, though, was the prospect of a sequel. In what we now know was a belatedly added coda to the film, we see Martha pull the tarp off a device that can only be her now-famous weather machine. How she might use it in future films, or how this film may feed into a Cornell University Administration cinematic universe, remains unclear, but one thing is for certain: Pollack is a triumph. It’s a bit early to be talking about Oscars, but there’s little reason to doubt that it could be the first film since Silence of the Lambs to sweep all the above the line categories, and it may well be chasing Lord of the Rings: Return of the King as the most awarded movie in the Academy’s history. For now, all I can do is urge everyone to see Pollack on the biggest screen possible and in 3D as soon as it’s released in theaters.