December 17, 2017
Friday, June 13, 2014

Ida: an intense trip of painful discoveries

Actresses Agata Kulesza and Agata Trzebuchowska in a scene from Ida.
Actresses Agata Kulesza and Agata Trzebuchowska in a scene from Ida.
Actresses Agata Kulesza and Agata Trzebuchowska in a scene from Ida.
By Pablo Suarez
Pawlikowski delivers emotional, spiritual and aesthetic experience like those of Bergman or Rossellini

It’s the 1960s in Poland, and young Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a noviatiate nun a few steps away from taking her vows. But she is told she has to go to visit her aunt Wanda (Agata Kusleza), her only relative alive. Such news comes as a big surprise to Ida, but nonetheless she goes to visit her. Little does expect that Wanda is so different from everybody she’s met before — granted, given she lived almost her entire life in a convent, her view of the world is utterly limited.

Wanda is a woman in her 40s with a taste for cigarettes, booze and sex — but not necessarily in that order. She has no sentimental companion, and no next of kin. Not only is she a loner, but she’s also a bit of a doubter — as the film unfolds, it becomes clear that she has more than enough reasons to be unhappy. In any case, even if she’s not very welcoming, she never mistreats Ida. It’s the news that she tells the noviatiate that’s really disturbing.

It turns out thata Ida is, of all things, Jewish by birth. Her parents were killed by the Nazis, or perhaps Jewish collaborators, or they just died during WWII. Nobody seems to know for sure. But somehow she survived (precisely why and how is not to be disclosed yet). And while Ida doesn’t have a single reminiscence of her parents, she now strongly feels she must know where they are buried and visit them. As for Wanda, she has reasons of her own to accompany her niece on a trip of painful discoveries. So off they go.

Ida, the new film by Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski, is a sensitive, subtle approach to a complex scenario in the shape of a historical drama, a character study, and also of a journey of revelations and transformations. If not of the history itself (for that’s impossible), then transformations are to be found in the ways these two women will connect with their past, which still casts a dark shadow on their present. Ida is a superb emotional, spiritual and an aesthetic experience like those of Bergman or Rossellini. From a very moving (but never sentimental) perspective, viewers are meant to be fully immersed into the story, largely thanks to the nearness and intimacy shared with the leads. Not to mention the stunning performances by Kulesza and Trzebuchowska, who fully flesh their characters out in unforeseen manners.

Ida’s tone is many times contemplative, and rightfully so, for it allows meanings to sink deeper. Starkly filmed in enticingly melancholic black and white, with a soft focus, powerful compositions in every single shot, and an enveloping sense of time and space, Pawel Pawlikowski’s delicate, yet heartbreaking outing is a small gem not to be missed.

Production notes: Ida (Poland/ Denmark , 2013). Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. Written by Pawel Pawlikowski, Rebecca Lenkiewicz. With: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, Dawid Ogrodnik, Jerzy Trela, Adam Szyszkowski, Halina Skoczynska, Joanna Kulig, Dorota Kuduk, Natalia Lagiewczyk, Afrodyta Weselak. Cinematography: Ryszard Lenczweski, Lukasz Zal. Editing: Jaroslaw Kaminski. Sound design: Claus Lynge. Produced by Eric Abraham. Running time: 80 minutes.

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