THE STORY – In 1962, Anna is about to take vows as a nun when she learns from her only relative that she is Jewish. Both women embark on a journey to discover their family story and where they belong.
THE CAST – Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska & Dawid Ogrodnik
THE TEAM – Paweł Pawlikowski (Director/Writer) & Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 82 Minutes
By Bianca Garner
In his last two films, “Ida” and “Cold War,” Paweł Pawlikowski has been on a journey of self-discovery, addressing not only Poland’s past but his own family’s history. As a teenager, Pawlikowski discovered his Jewish ancestry before leaving his native home of Poland with his mother to live in the U.K. after his parents divorced. (The fourteen-year-old Pawlikowski was under the impression that they were going away on holiday.)
After a career in the U.K., where he won a BAFTA in 2004 for “My Summer of Love,” the tragic loss of his wife and the failure of “The Woman in the Fifth,” Pawlikowski found himself returning to Poland. There he discovered a world that had hardly been touched by time, and he became drawn to telling the stories of a young woman discovering her past and the turbulent love life of a couple living through the cold war. Despite “Ida” having a female protagonist, it’s clear that Anna’s journey mirrors Pawlikowski’s own struggles. Not only is “Ida” deeply personal, but it also has a universal and timeless story that many of us will be able to connect with in some way.
Set in 1962 in Communist-ruled Poland, the film tells the story of Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) an 18-year-old orphan who was raised in a convent and is preparing to take her vows. One day, her Mother Superior insists that she meet her only living relative before Anna takes her vows, an aunt, Wanda (Agata Kulesza). The two women couldn’t be any more different. Wanda is a former prosecutor who is masking her own pain by smoking, drinking and sleeping with various men. Perhaps the biggest shock is when Wanda informs her that her real name is Ida, that she’s Jewish, and that her parents were killed during World War II.
Anna becomes compelled to travel back to the village where her parents lived to find out the truth about what happened and how they died. They find that the house where Anna’s parents used to live is now occupied by Feliks (Adam Szyszkowski) and his family who aren’t exactly the most welcoming. Feliks informs them that his dying father may know where Anna’s parents may be buried, so they decide to seek him out. During their journey, they pick up a hitchhiking saxophonist called Lis (Dawid Ogrodnik), who Anna is drawn to. However, the real story is the emerging relationship between the two women who are both haunted by a past that others wish to remain buried.
Some have described “Ida” as a road movie, but this feels like a disservice to the film; it’s so much more than that. Although not much happens in terms of plot or narrative, you find yourself drawn to its story and the characters. This is a film that’s so rich in detail and so beautifully crafted that you can’t physically pull your eyes away from the screen. The world of “Ida” is brought to life by cinematographers Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski who ensure every frame is perfectly positioned, and not a shot feels wasted or out of place. “Ida” is filmed in the unusual, aspect ratio of 4:3 and in black white. When asked about this decision, Lenczewski stated: “We chose black and white and the 1.33 frame because it was evocative of Polish films of that era, the early 1960s. We designed the unusual compositions to make the audience feel uncertain, to watch in a different way.”
In terms of its aesthetics and style of filmmaking, “Ida” does indeed pay homage to the European film movement of the 1950s and ‘60s, with the emergence of such revered directors as Robert Bresson, Ingmar Bergman, François Truffaut, Michelangelo Antonioni, Jean-Luc Godard, and Federico Fellini, among others. “Ida” is not only a tribute to the country of Poland and its history, but also a tribute to this period of European cinema. Every single detail down to the clothing, the hairstyles, the music, and the cars have been perfectly replicated for the period. So much so that if you weren’t aware that it was made in 2013 you could easily believe it was made by the likes of Fellini or Bergman. The film’s runtime is 82 minutes but nothing feels rushed or hurried. Often dialogue is used sparingly with Pawlikowski using mise-en-scène to convey the character’s emotional reactions. This is sophisticated storytelling at its highest level, with a filmmaker who understands the power and language of cinema at its helm.
Each performance is subtle and subdued, one has to carefully study the facial expressions and body language of each actor to understand the emotions of the characters. Trzebuchowska had no prior acting experience before filming, and she brings a level of realism and authenticity to the role. It’s hard to tell exactly how Anna is feeling or what she’s thinking; she’s this enigma which makes her so compelling. The same can be said for Kulesza’s Wanda, who is easier to read, but it’s clear she’s hiding her own turmoil and pain from Anna and the viewer. Both female characters are wonderfully complex and developed, a testament to the actors’ performances and the screenplay by Rebecca Lenkiewicz and Pawlikowski.
There’s so much more that could be said about “Ida” but it would be far better if you were to go and experience the beauty of the film firsthand. From the film’s exquisite cinematography to the stunning performances from its central leads, “Ida” is an absolute masterpiece and a testament to the timeless power and impact of cinema.
THE FINAL SCORE