Returning to his homeland for the first time in his career, Pawel Pawlikowski has created a film that is simultaneously aching in quiet intimacy yet universal in its awareness and impact. Ida, opening on Friday, July 11th in Indianapolis at the Landmark Keystone Art Cinema, is the story of an 18-year-old Anna (played stunningly by newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska), a sheltered orphan raised in a nunnery and now preparing to take her vows. Before she is to do so, the prioress requires her visit her lone surviving relative, Aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), a worldly and cynical Communist Party insider known more commonly under the moniker Red Wanda, whose judicial decisions sent many to prison and some to their deaths.
Wanda reveals to Anna that, despite everything she has ever known, Anna's real name is Ida and she is a Jew whose parents died during World War II. This revelation leads to a quietly heartwrenching journey to the Polish countryside of the 60's where the family home will be visited and the devastating legacy of the Holocaust will be explored along with the stark realities of postwar Communism.
Pawlikowski has accomplished something extraordinary with Ida in his ability to capture both darkness and light, innocence and penetrating evil. Ida may very well be a masterpiece because it appears that Pawlikowski isn't trying to create a masterpiece but, instead, he's reflecting upon his homeland's controversial past in a deeply personal way. In the United States, themes such as those tackled in Ida would be tackled alongside words such as "Oscar Bait" but here Pawlikowski and his exceptional cast avoid excessive dialogue in favor of authentic atmosphere and, perhaps even more notable, they manage to avoid histrionics in favor of allowing this journey for Anna and Wanda to be as much about personal discovery as it is about universal truths.
Trzebuchowska is mesmerizing as Anna, a woman whose entire being is disciplined yet one feels the subtle shifts in who she is and how she carries herself as the journey unfolds itself. While she speaks, it's often the unspoken language of her facial expressions and body language that actually say the most here. Somehow, Trzebuchowska is able to weave together a spiritual stoicism into her silent vulnerability. It's a remarkable performance devoid of any sense of actual performance.
As Wanda, Agata Kulesza gives the film much of its emotional resonance and underlying power. While Anna's journey is often one of self-discovery, Wanda's is in many ways a journey of self-examination filled with dark humor and doubt.
Ida is, despite its quiet nature, a remarkably bold film that is taken in some courageous directions by Pawlikowski. It's a film that manages to occasionally exude a sense of life and spirit as if to say "This is tragic, but life also goes on." Lensing by Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal nicely utilizes the rather unusual choice of shooting the film in an aspect ration of 1.37:1, a choice that seems odd yet works to stunning perfection. Music by Kristian Eidnes Andersen is simple yet perfectly aligned with the film's visually arresting presentation, and Pawlikowski perfectly utilizes club scenes incorporating a tremendous diversity of music from past and present. The presence of a young saxophonist (Dawid Ogrodnik) gives the film a sort of symbolic freedom captured nicely through the floating sounds of Coltrane.
Ida is an immersive and thought-provoking film that leaves space, visually and intellectually, for the moviegoer to experience and interpret the film as they see fit. At a rather sparse 80-minute running time, Ida is a film that leaves you feeling as if you'd like to have more times with these characters in an effort to better understand their lives and their choices. It is a film that lingers in your mind and in your thoughts long after the closing credits have rolled.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic