DIR: Pawel Pawlikowski • WRI: Pawel Pawlikowski, Rebecca Lenkiewicz • PRO: Eric Abraham, Piotr Dzieciol, Ewa Puszczynska • DOP: Ryszard Lenczewski, Lukasz Zal • ED: Jaroslaw Kaminski • DES: Marcel Slawinski, Katarzyna Sobanska-Strzalkowska • MUS: Kristian Eidnes Andersen • CAST: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, Dawid Ogrodnik
In 1960s Poland, eighteen-year-old orphan Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) pursues a life of servitude knowing little of life beyond the walls of her convent and is mere days away from taking her vows and sealing her fate when she receives word from a long-lost aunt seeking council. She reveals that Anna is Ida, a Jew who was not abandoned or given up but taken from her parents during the Holocaust of the German occupation. The revelation triggers a search for truth casting her sheltered life upside down and her god-fearing faith into question.
Ida absorbs the information stoically and waits patiently for the bus that will take her back on the course chosen for her but her icy aunt, Wanda (Agata Kulesza), takes pity and decides for both of them to keep digging. The journey therein is an odd-couple affair, Ida initially silent and sheepish with Wanda increasingly tenacious and volatile in the hunt for answers. The latter, a judge and former state prosecutor scrutinises everyone, never taking no for an answer, a misanthrope who guzzles alcohol and engages in one-night stands to quell her own dogged agenda. Ida, however, never openly judges her hardboiled aunt’s lifestyle even as she scoffs at her saintly manner or pesters her about carnal impulses, taking every jeer on her delicately dimpled chin.
Veteran director Pawel Pawlikowski carries the weighty subject matter flawlessly and incorporates black and white in the oft-forgotten 4:3 format with finesse, complimenting the proceedings in painterly compositions brimming with pathos. The past haunts the present and its threads threaten to overwhelm both Ida and Wanda. Long, lingering takes seek to penetrate their steely exteriors, the only refuge often below the frame of view as they crumble half submerged from prying eyes.
Their destination is Ida’s old home where Wanda wastes no time grilling the current residents who’d appropriated it unlawfully during the war. She’s convinced they harboured Ida’s family in nearby woods for a time but they refuse to confess the grisly fate that befell them. Here the narrative takes an intriguing turn as they wait it out until the accusers are ready to concede any information they might hold. The hotel they’re staying in is holding festivities and Ida discovers jazz music, it takes a hold of her and she submits to its dizzying rhythm like a moth to a flame. Of course, it helps that the pied piper of sorts is a handsome saxophonist, who finds himself equally enchanted by Ida’s aura and so begins her opening up to new experiences like a flower blooming in the new day sun.
The highlight of these scenes is the manner in which Ida allows herself to experience them. The journey unearths a host of ghosts, God has not been kind to Ida since infancy and you get a sense that she’s taking back what’s been denied in concession. But it’s not that clear-cut, perhaps Anna is exorcising Ida, placating her newfound urges when she allows herself to glimpse the desirability she emanates. Her reasoning might remain a mystery but unlike her troubled aunt she’s always in control of her impulses so when the history of her parents is finally revealed we know it can only strengthen her resolve to overcome it.
It’s a rocky road-movie but there’s so much beauty to behold that you’d gladly take the 80-minute journey again for the emphatic story, the stirring performances and Pawlikowski’s awe-inspiring visuals. Combined, the drama transcends its momentous setting in what may prove to be the most important and affecting films of the year.
Ida is released 26th September 2014
Ida – Official Website