Ida is an interesting little film that feels more like something out of the time period that it depicts than something that would get made now. This is the first Polish film I’ve seen, but this feels a lot like a Bergman film coming out of the ’60s. Not exactly, but its similar in that its shot in black and white with an almost exclusively stationary camera, striking compositions, and examines a woman’s faith. It’s a very good film, though puzzling in some aspects.
Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) a young novice about to take her vows and become a nun, when the Mother Superior of her convent tells her she must visit her only living relative before she makes up her mind. She does so, finding her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza) cold and emotionally distant. Anna is surprised to learn that not only is she Jewish, her real name is Ida. However, despite their differences they both decide to go and try to find out what happened to Ida’s parents during WWIII. The revelation of their family’s tragic story forces both of them to change, with Wanda sinking deeper into depression and hopelessness and Ida examining what her life could be like outside of the convent.
While Wanda takes it badly, understandably, it’s not necessarily surprising because she seems to have emotional problems from the beginning. She is a judge enforcing communism in 1960s Poland, not exactly a happy life. Ida has a more complex journey to undergo, as she hasn’t seen the outside world before. Wanda is always telling her to engage in life more, which is a bit strange because she’s so depressed and everything. Nevertheless, Ida does try to involve herself, charming a young saxophone player (Dawid Ogrodnik), dancing, and struggling with the decision of whether or not to return to the convent. Agata Trzebuchowska doesn’t give an emotionally compelling performance in the traditional sense of the world, but has a miraculous screen presence. Just by showing up onscreen she seems to convey so much by doing so little.
Ida is a film that moves the audiences in strange ways. It has a strange way of editing around major events, and everything is done in a very still, quiet, and understated way. A single glance seems to hold great power. When Ida and Wanda finally do find out what happened to Ida’s parents, it’s almost unclear what the story is. The character telling them sort of skirts around the subject, so you have to sort of guess the circumstances that led to what happened. Knowing they were Polish Jews during WWII gives you a clue that it’s not happy. The film is less interested in the surrounding climate than the effect the information has on its characters.
The real reason I watched this film though, besides hearing that it was good and it being readily available, was its cinematography nomination. I wondered if it was like the case of Nebraska (or at least on first appearances), nominated because it was shot in black and white which is a bit unusual nowadays. I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but I will say the cinematography here is very unique. A lot of times, characters occupy the bottom of the frame, and sometimes portions of their faces are cut off. I would say that’s probably supposed to show their broken emotional states of the characters, but I have to admit it was disconcerting at some points. However, at other times it was extremely effective. The camera barely moves throughout the movie, giving a very still and quiet feeling. The film is also shot in relatively low contrast, which gives the effect of conveying mundane everyday life, even with the extreme sorrow of the characters. I’m still rooting for Lubezki for Birdman, but I have to say the cinematography here is integral to the film (I mean, it always is, but here you can’t watch the film and NOT analyze the shots) and definitely deserves to be nominated.
Ida is a very interesting film, feeling like something from the ’60s (when it takes place) rather than anything anyone is coming out with nowadays. It’s refreshing for that, because it definitely stands on its own even while evoking an earlier style of film making. The characters are well defined and fascinating to watch. The cinematography is definitely the thing to pay attention to here, and I look forward to watching it again sometime to make full sense of the choices they made with it.
Long story short: 3.5/4 stars