Shot in crisp black and white in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio with precise and off-centre framing that recalls the work of Bresson, Bergman, and Dreyer, Ida carefully and quietly shows a series of revelations. It’s short and powerful, feeling distant at first, but becoming more and more emotionally engaging as the film goes on. It’s the coolness of the approach that let the film creep up on me while exploring the role of the Catholic church, Communism, and the Holocaust in post-war Poland. While the topics are heavy, the film never feels that way with the face of Anna forming the mirror that we see everything through.
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski and cowritten by Pawlikoski and Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Ida is he most recent addition to my list of best films of 2014. It’s about a young woman in Poland in the early 1960s who is about to become a nun. She’s an orphan, raised by the Catholic church and just before she takes her vows she finds out that she has a surviving relative, an aunt who is a judge. This starts Anna on a journey to discover her Jewish ancestry.
Ida could easily fit into a retrospective of Polish and eastern European art house films from the 60s, but it doesn’t feel like an homage so much as a evocation of the time. The understated tone and glimpses of life and society that made those earlier films so distinctive and important are here along with the benefit of hindsight. It’s also a rare film that firmly focusses on women and their concerns with the men in the film taking a peripheral role.
The performances in the film are perfect with Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza at the centre as two women who defined themselves through their faith in the church and in the Communist state. They share an absent family destroyed by the Holocaust and we witness them determining how to square the horrors of the past with their present lives. The film feels as if it is from the 1960s with perfect period detail, looks, and sounds. It’s a compact gem of a film filled with transcendent moments of beauty and sadness.