Reviewed by: Rebecca Naughten

Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza in Ida
"A still, painterly vision in silvery monochrome - capturing the quiet contemplation of the two women and simultaneously encouraging the same on the part of the viewer." | Photo: Music Box Films

A road movie of sorts - or perhaps an odd couple one - Ida is a brief glimpse into the lives of two women who belatedly cross paths, allowing each to offer the other something that has been missing. Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is an orphan and a novice nun, on the verge of taking her vows, informed by her Mother Superior that she has a living relative - an aunt who was entreated to take Anna as a child, but who refused to do so - and told that she must visit this woman before committing herself to the convent. The aunt - Wanda (Agata Kulesza) - is initially an abrasive presence who seems to take delight in dropping the bombshell that Anna (who knows nothing about her family or history) is actually Jewish and her real name is Ida.

The film could just as easily be called Wanda. Provocative and argumentative, Wanda is a former State prosecutor ('Red Wanda') turned judge who views her past life with sardonic disillusionment. Kulesza gives a vivid performance of a spirited woman brought low, dulling the pain with alcohol until the appearance of her niece - and Ida's resemblance to her mother, Wanda's beloved sister Roza, is a source of wonder for the older woman - compels her to dig into the past and confront what happened to their family during the war. Kulesza is a much more experienced actress than Trzebuchowska - and it occasionally shows - but this suits the life experience of their respective characters, and the two actors complement each other in their portrayals of strong, but different, women. The change undergone by each woman as the result of their time together is rendered visually - this is a film of silences and watchful dark eyes - in the way that Wanda's gaze softens and Ida starts to look up rather than down.

Copy picture

To describe a film as beautiful is often to damn with faint praise but director Pawel Pawlikowski and first time DoP Lukasz Zal create a still, painterly vision in silvery monochrome - capturing the quiet contemplation of the two women and simultaneously encouraging the same on the part of the viewer. The only time the camera physically moves is in two shots at the end of the film, when Ida moves forward determinedly, and the movement of the camera echoes her.

Pawlikowski usually positions the people at the bottom edge of the frame, dwarfed by the world around them and the magnitude of past events reverberating into the present. The framing of the characters on the edge of the shot is one of the ways in which the film's unusual 1.37 aspect ratio is accentuated by the visual composition. Vertical lines and spaces - doorways, windows, trees - emphasise the squareness of the image by drawing our eyes up rather than across the screen, and are utilised in conjunction with the inky shadows to suggest the 'boxing-in' of the women. For example, while searching for Szymon (Jerzy Trela) - a man who knew their family during the war - Ida and Wanda appear centre-frame upon arriving at his apartment block, framed within a narrow rectangle of daylight as they open the outer door into an almost pitch-black entry hall, a dim bulb barely visible at the top of the image. As they step over the threshold the image economically emphasises their unity, the limitations of their position in this locale, and also foreshadows the darkness of the events they will eventually uncover.

This is not just the story of one family - by extension Poland's hidden past is being dug up in an era when the walls had ears, and eyes were still averted from unpalatable (and dangerous) truths not simply because of a sense of shame but because some events retain the power to wound years later. Pawlikowski and co-writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz explore this via two women who step into the darkness, looking for - and finding - the truth about the past and themselves. Recommended.

Reviewed on: 07 Oct 2014
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A novice nun comes face-to-face with her family’s past in 1960s Poland.

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski

Writer: Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Pawel Pawlikowski

Starring: Agata Kulesza, Joanna Kulig, Dawid Ogrodnik, Adam Szyszkowski, Agata Trzebuchowska

Year: 2013

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: Poland, Denmark

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