Ida is a stunningly quiet and concise film. At only 80 minutes long, the film briskly and methodically moves from shot to shot, never wasting even a single moment on the frivolous or unnecessary. The film appears plain and unadorned, shot in black-and-white and with a minimalist, almost barren design. But that is superficial, because in actuality, the film utilizes the most stunning use of black-and-white cinematography since Michael Haneke’s 2009 Palme d’Or winner, The White Ribbon. And like that film, Ida has won its fair share of awards on the film festival circuit.
This look and feel is wonderfully appropriate for a film about a young nun on the verge of taking her final vows in 1962 Poland. Anna, is naïve and sheltered orphan who has lived her entire life in a countryside convent. At the urging of her mother superior, before Anna commits her life to the servitude of the church, she visits her aunt, Wanda, her only living relative and a notable judge in the post-war Communist Polish regime. Over the course of several, life-changing days, the two women dig deep into their tragic communal past as they seek to set right the wrong done to their family during the Nazi occupation. Simultaneously, Anna is experiencing life outside the nunnery walls for the first time – kind of like a Polish-Catholic Rumspringa, but I would imagine, far more melancholy.
The film is anchored by two terrific and stoic performances from its dual leads, Agata Trzebuchowska (in her debut film) and Agata Kulesza. Highlighted by the stark black and white photography, Trzebuchowska’s innocent, pale round face is accentuated by her markedly, almost unbelievably pitch dark eyes. Anna, whose birth name was Ida, is pious, naïve, and content, though increasingly curious about life itself. Her aunt is a world-weary and cynical alcoholic attempting to fill the void of regret and loss in her life with booze and emotionless one-night stands. Over the course of the film, and their odd couple-like road trip, the two women represent opposite ends of the spectrum on nearly everything, including how they deal with loss and life in general.
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, Ida is one of the strongest female-centric films of the year. With the squared ratio of classic films, the film has the look and feel of something Bergman or Bresson could have shot in the 1960s. His camera is near static, relying on meaningful cuts and lingering pauses to guide the story. As mentioned before, the film is hauntingly quiet, which makes even the smallest, naturalistic sounds reverberate. This only makes the louder bursts of music that punctuate the film, via a young saxophone player’s soulful band or a screeching record player, that much more jarring and impactful, particularly considering the events that follow them. Like the tragedies that haunt Ann/Ida, and especially Wanda, the film’s most poignant moments stick with the viewer long after its brisk 80 minutes are up.
* * * * out of 5 stars
The film will also play in a one-night special screening at Shotgun Cinema on Wednesday, September 10 at 7:00 p.m. See more info on that screening here.
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