Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski
Premise: Set in Poland in the 1960s, a young woman living at a convent prepares to take her vows but discovers a family secret dating back to World War II.
What Works: Ida is a movie about the way in which the past haunts the present. The film centers on Anna, a novitiate nun just weeks from taking her vows. She has been in the convent since she was a child, having been brought there during World War II. The convent’s Mother Superior sends Anna to see her Aunt Wanda, the young woman’s last living relative. To her shock, Anna finds that her aunt is a judge but she is also an alcoholic. Wanda reveals to Anna that her real name is Ida and that her family was Jewish and that they were killed during the war. However, her family may not have been killed by Nazis but by someone who wanted to take the family’s farm. Anna and Wanda set out on a road trip to find out the truth about her family’s fate and hopefully recover the bodies and give them a proper burial. Ida is a movie of apparently simple scenes that have a lot of complicated issues going on in the background. The interactions between the characters are often loaded with the subtext of grief and trauma just beneath the surface. This is the story of characters dealing with the aftermath of an atrocity and the two central actresses give terrific performances. Agata Trzebuchowska plays Anna and the role is a challenging part to play in that her character does not say much and is generally pretty passive. The actress imbues Anna with a lot of quiet dignity but she is also clearly overwhelmed by all of the revelations about herself and her identity. That is another important and impressive aspect of this film; Anna’s sense of self is rooted in her Catholic faith but when she discovers that he is Jewish by family lineage that complicates her sense of self and this is played with appropriate subtlety. She is also a person who has lived a sheltered spiritual life and when she visits her aunt she is subject to the temptations and materialism of everyday society. Trzebuchowska plays this just right and Anna attempts to hold onto her faith while confronted with an overwhelming amount of stimulation. Also impressive is Agata Kulesza as Aunt Wanda. Kulesza’s character is damaged from the things she has seen and been a part of; her alcoholism is a coping mechanism. Kulesza’s performance is intense with her character frequently ridiculing the faith of her niece. But those derisive remarks aren’t simply mean. Anna’s earnestness collides with Wanda’s cynicism and worldliness and their uneasy rapport is a product of that conflict. Since Ida has a lot going on underneath its scenes, the filmmakers wisely choose to use some unique cinematic techniques to draw that out. The film is shot in black and white and it features unusual camera positions, which often highlight the subtext of the movie and keep it visually interesting.
What Doesn’t: The ending of Ida isn’t as strong as the rest of the movie. The film resolves the issue that it’s been driving toward and then it continues on with multiple climaxes. These secondary and tertiary endings don’t have quite the impact of the dramatic moments in the body of the film although they do draw out some of the themes and ideas that the characters confront throughout the picture. The central character of Ida is the young novitiate nun played by Agata Trzebuchowska but her aunt, played by Agata Kulesza, is much more fully characterized. Given how much more interesting the aunt is, the way in which the filmmakers resolve her storyline is disappointing. The ending of Ida shifts the focus to Anna and the filmmakers pay off much of what they’ve set up throughout the middle of the picture but this portion of the movie could have been played out longer and more effectively.
DVD extras: Featurettes, interviews, and a trailer.
Bottom Line: Ida is a quiet and solemn movie but packs a very effective punch. The film has some impressive cinematic qualities but what leaves a lasting impression is the way that grief and trauma echo through the lives of the characters.
Episode: #533 (March 15, 2015)