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New Review: Ida (2014)
Director: Paweł Pawlikowski
Cast: Agata Trzebuchowska, Agata Kulesza, Dawid Ogrodnik, Joanna Kulig, Jerzy Trela, Halina Skoczynska, Adam Szyszkowski
(Note: I do mention a particular plot point from the movie. I, personally, don't think it spoils anything (there's much more to said plot point which I don't disclose), but even so, proceed with caution.)
Ida is a sublime movie, a sparse yet thematically rich and emotionally wrenching experience that's able to speak volumes simply with its powerful images alone. The movie is directed by Paweł Pawlikowski, a Polish-born filmmaker who left his homeland at the age of 14 before settling in Britain, and has made a movie here that details a horrifying chapter in his country's history. Ida is a movie that reflects the very heart of its maker, and is told with such conviction and grace that it's bound to touch the soul of anyone who watches it.
Set in Poland during the 1960s, the movie tells the story of Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), an 18-year old orphan girl who's spent her entire life inside a Catholic convent. On the eve before she's to take her vows as a nun, her prioress informs her that she has an aunt who is still alive and her only living relative. They tried to convince her to adopt Anna when she was a baby, but her aunt replied that she couldn't come. Now, before she can take her vows, Anna's told that she must go out and meet her aunt in person. "Stay there for as long as necessary," the prioress tells her.
Agata Kulesza turns in a performance of astonishing power as Anna's aunt Wanda, a promiscuous, chain-smoking, alcoholic Judge associated with the Stalinist regime. Their first meeting is not a happy one, as Wanda tells Anna that her real name is Ida Lebenstein, and that she's the daughter of Jewish parents who were murdered during the war. She tells her aunt that she wants to go to the place where her parents are buried, not only to find out what happened to them, but also to find out how she came to live at the convent. "What if you go," Wanda asks her, "and discover that there is no God?"
The next day, the two women are off, driving to their destination through a gloomy countryside that seems haunted by the inhuman atrocities that happened there. Along the way, they encounter a hitch-hiker named Lis (Dawid Ogrodnik), a saxophone player on his way to his next gig, as well as a Polish Catholic family who may have sheltered Anna's family during the war, and may hold the answers to what happened to them.
Shot in enchanting black-&-white by cinematographers Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski, Ida features some of the most astounding and expressive black-&-white images ever committed to celluloid. Some of the most entrancing shots in the movie are the wide-angle close-ups of the characters, whose faces are usually seen in the bottom corners of the frame. It creates a lot of open space around the character's heads, and in a way, it also seems to suggest an invisible and omnipotent presence with them on their painful journey.
The film's best and most elegant shot is also its simplest, and it show Anna taking off her headpiece and letting down her hair. It's the start of Anna's transformation, as later in the movie, she will remove her nun's garment and put on her aunt's dress before going into town. This act signifies not an abandonment of faith, but rather the first steps taken by a young woman wanting to form an identity for herself. Next to its themes of faith and regret, Ida is about a sheltered and unworldly young woman on a journey of self-discovery, and what's special about the movie is that it's able to convey its themes in such a concise yet fascinatingly complex way.
It's not a spoiler to say that Wanda and Anna find the remains of Anna's parents; the movie has a ways to go after that scene has passed. The discovery of Anna's parents, who are buried in a dark forest, does lead to a moment that haunts me even as I write these words to you. Wanda kneels beside the dug-up grave, retrieves a skull from it, wraps it in a cloth, and holds it close to her chest as though she were cradling an infant child. Kuelsza's performance is a tour-de-force, conveying waves of unspeakable pain simply with her eyes. She has no dialogue in this scene, but that's okay, because she's the sort of actress who can say so much without uttering a word.
Newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska is given a much more difficult and enigmatic role to play. It's no easy thing to bring a character to life with minimal facial expressions, but Trzebuchowska pulls it off beautifully. Just look at the scene where her aunt Wanda tells her for the first time that she's Jewish. She doesn't show much, but even still, she's able to convey a hint of what Anna's feeling when she hears the news. I don't know where Pawlikowski found this lovely young woman, but I'm glad he did. Trzebuchowska is a born actress.
Many critics have used words like "riveting," "exquisite," and "perfect" to describe Ida, and as strong as those words are, they don't even begin to do the movie justice. Ida is one of those rare gems you find once in a couple of years, and it seems to only get better with repeated viewings. I've seen the movie twice now, and the second time was, surprisingly, more rewarding than the first. Although the movie is (if you discount the end credits) less than 80 minutes long, that's how compelling and textured it is. It's a stunning achievement, and a glorious celebration of everything that makes movies so special in the first place.
Rated PG-13 for thematic material, some sexual content, and smoking
Final Grade: **** (out of ****)
What did you think of this movie? :)
This is a FANTASTIC trailer!!!!!!!!! 8D
Other Thoughts on Ida (2014)
- 'Ida' Review - Chicago Tribune
In early 1960s Poland a Catholic nun-to-be discovers she is a Jew in this fine, absorbing drama. Four stars.
- Film Review: Ida | Cinema | Detroit Metro Times
Ida | A Is it possible for a film to be too visually exquisite? Take any frame in writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski’s luminous Ida and you...
- Ida Review: Pawel Pawlikowski’s Homecoming Tackles Dark Polish History | Variety
- Hunting for skeletons, in black and white - The Globe and Mail
In Ida, Pawel Pawlikowski examines historical ghosts and grapples with scars of communism and the Holocaust
- 'Ida' keeps history at arm's length - redeyechicago.com
Matt Pais talks about the already-overrated "Ida."