Review: 'Ida'


[vc_row][vc_column width="2/3"][vc_column_text disable_pattern="true" align="left" margin_bottom="0"]The power of black and white imagery is unmistakable. It harkens back to a bygone era and allows audiences to slip into that past, historically and cinematically, with ease. With the color drained, every face looks stark and desperate; any setting can assume a sudden bleakness. Couple that with a sparse but powerful narrative, as Ida does, and you have the perfect recipe for a quiet, contemplative character study. This film, the Polish entry for best foreign-language film at the upcoming Academy Awards, is as bare bones as it gets. It takes place in 1960s Poland; the titular character is a young orphan-turned-nun who's forced to meet her only living family member before taking her vows. What she learns from that encounter brings both her present and future into question.

Agata Trzebuchowska stars as Ida, the aspiring nun and orphan who has never experienced life outside of the nunnery. The world is overwhelming to her, and Trzebuchowska conveys this innocence with a perfect wide-eyed naivety. She understands what's expected from her but doesn't have the wisdom, or the guidance, to resist every temptation.

Agata Kulesza gets the showier role as Wanda, the oft-drunken aunt who's made a career out of taking down members of the anti-communist resistance. Haunted by what happened to the rest of their family during the Holocaust, she attempts to bring about closure for both her and Ida while also chugging booze. It's not easy to portray a character that commands respect yet can't stand up straight, but Kulesza inhabits both sides of Wanda with an supernatural ease. Even better, she massages them into a depressing, helpless cohesive whole. Far too attractive to be throwing herself at any men in sight, far too smart to be drinking herself into oblivion, she nevertheless engages in all available destructive activities.

Subtlety proves to be director Paweł Pawlikowski's specialty. The devastating effects of national socialism and communism have torn apart both characters' lives, but neither ideology is forced to the forefront. It's easy to imagine a heavy-handed English-language remake that reinforces their impact over and over, but Pawlikowski weaves them in with a delicate touch. Ida is the future that Wanda has helped bring about, but the older woman faults her niece for pursuing purity in a world that continues to let their family down without fail.

Not much happens in Ida; the two women have an emotional road trip across the country but the events are solemn and without flash. The script from Rebecca Lenkiewicz and Pawlikowski trusts its actresses to do the heavy lifting, and the film's audience to see the depths behind their personalities and interactions. It's a welcome departure from the American style of over-explaining that affects nearly every film, even the good ones.

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  • Directed by: Paweł Pawlikowski
  • Written by: Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Paweł Pawlikowski
  • Starring: Agata Trzebuchowska, Agata Kulesza
  • Runtime: 115 minutes
  • Release date: November 22, 2014 (on Netflix)


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