Writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski has created a profoundly simple film with Ida, that’s simply profound. Beautiful composed, precisely performed and economical in almost every sense; its understated brilliance is hard to encapsulate.
Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a young Nun in training in 1960s Poland. On the brink of taking her vows she’s persuaded to seek out her final remaining relative, her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), to get assistance finding the graves of her parents. Anna opens the door to a dark family history back to the Nazi occupation.
Pawlikowski introduces Anna to her aunt Wanda, who feels like she’s loaded with resentment, and within moments with choice loaded dialogue we discover that Anna is in fact Ida, a Jew whose parents were displaced and killed in the war. She was delivered to the church as a baby and was raised Christian for her entire life. Before you know it Pawlikowski confronts you with the horrific reality of Nazi occupation of Poland, from the uncomfortably intimate perspective of the people who benefited from the Jews removal. Pawlikowski not only crafts cripplingly good performances from the cast, which has to convey and reflect the chaos of what Anna/Ida has to internally process, he has incredible formal skills. Collaborating with cinematographers Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukas Zal and using the 4:3 aspect ratio and the black and white film (which perfectly guise the period setting), Ida is a film that is littered with striking composition.
Agata Kulesza’s Wanda is a fierce feminist character in a time that feels like she’s being constantly regarded as strange. She fervently pursues the truth with a tenacity of a woman deeply ashamed of her country and the citizens of her country that have escaped judgement for the things they were allowed to get away with during the war. Blood is on the hands of a population refusing to talk about the three million Jews that lost their lives during the Holocaust (or Shoah). Wanda, once a lawyer and activist, now a judge has to confront the fact that so many people that stood idly escape justice. She self-medicates, she copes, but Kulesza does an admirable job of taking us right to Wanda’s breaking point.
Agata Trzebuchowska’s Anna/Ida must completely mute her emotion throughout this journey. She’s a canvas for our experience of revelation after revelation. The engineering of the convent makes her a closed book. There are cracks though; her eyes are flicker like wells with deep springs. Her stillness is riveting.
Ida begins as a search for closure and becomes an incredibly engrossing and devastating examination of the pedestrian nature of evil in wartime.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski
Written by: Pawel Pawlikowski and Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Starring: Agata Trzebuchowska, Agata Kulesza, Dawid Ogrodnik, Jerzy Trela, Adam Szyszkowski