Movie Review: Ida
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Writers: Pawel Pawlikowski, Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Stars: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, Dawid Ogrodnik
Synopsis: Anna, a young novitiate nun in 1960s Poland, is on the verge of taking her vows when she discovers a dark family secret dating back to the years of the Nazi occupation.
Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida is arguably the best foreign language film of the year. Ida is absolutely beautiful in every way possible. The black and white cinematography gorgeously lifts the 1960’s Poland aethstic we are dropped into. And it’s not just the black and white but how Pawlikowski and co. are able to position the characters in every scene is flawless. Pawlikowski also uses precise off-screen sounds that make every scene feel more authentic and more potent. There are a few scenes with the Anna character that stand out as some of the best scenes of the year, for reasons that can’t be explained without spoilers, but they give some great complexity to her. Overall, the direction here is about as impeccable as you can get.
Ida is in 1960’s Poland, where Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is on the verge of becoming a nun. However, before she can take her final vows, she’s ordered to visit her Aunt, who is her only living relative. When Anna meets up with her Aunt, Wanda (Agata Kulesza), she learns quickly that there’s more to her than what she realizes. Her family’s secrets date back to Nazi occupation, something she’s been hidden from her entire life. Wanda on the other hand has been fully exposed to the tragedies and has fought for redemption of her people ever since as a lawyer and judge. Wanda and Anna go on a journey together to find closure and put this chapter behind them. And while closure is important, it’s Anna and Wanda’s reactions to closure that’s complex and fascinating. The narrative explores different paths people can take and the ramifications that can come from those choices. There’s also a fantastic sub-plot that involves a young jazz musician, Lis, that gives depth to Anna’s character and blends in perfectly with the main narrative. The story is rather simple overall but it goes to some great emotional territory, while adding some magnetic complexity to these characters that’s really engaging.
Agata Trzebuchowska is wonderful and incredibly sells her character on every level. While her dialouge is fine, it’s Trzebuchowska’s non-verbal mannerisms that elevates her performance. The chemistry she has with Agata Kulesza is a wonderful blend of spices. Anna and Wanda are like salt and pepper as they couldn’t be more opposite of one another, however together they make for a great taste. Kulesza is fantastic at showcasing the Aunt’s experience and why she ticks the way she does. She is more dialogue heavy and delivers it with a nice, yet subtle, punch. Dawid Ogrodnik isn’t in the film a ton, but when he’s there, you can see how it influences the Anna character and he plays it the way he needed to.
Kristian Eidnes Anderson gets the nod to score here and while the composed music is okay, it’s the jazz music that is going to stand out here. We hear a few tracks through the radio while Anna and Wanda are traveling and some more obvious tracks where a jazz band is playing at a restaurant. The music is terrific and while it may seem odd given the themes of the film, it’s a fantastic contract that fits in perfectly with the film.
Overall, it’s difficult to find any criticisms for this film. This is easily one of the best films of the year and nails everything it was going for. And for a film that has elements regarding the residue of the Holocaust, it never gets overbearing or too arduous. The complexities of the Anna character are not only interesting but explore this idea of a future and making it a bright one. It’s as uplifting as it is heartbreaking.