Released a year after its initial debut in Poland Ida tells the story of Anna, a young nun who is about to take her vows of poverty chastity and obedience. She is told by a sister nun to visit her last living relative an aunt named Wanda. From there Anna learns that her name is not Anna but Ida and that she is not Catholic as she has studied to be but was born into the Jewish faith. Through traveling with Wanda to find where her parents are buried Ida experiences the world for the first time and throughout that journey she learns about her past and who she is as a person.
Ida is not an easy film to watch. The setting of this film is 1960’s Poland and that setting perfectly represents what it must have been like shortly after World War II had finished. No one really knows who to trust or how to feel about the events that occurred during the war. It’s akin to an entire town of people witnessing or possibly even taking part in an unjustifiable act of cruelty and no one is talking about it. I love the sparse bare environment this film lives in because it capitalizes on the despair that many felt after the war but also acknowledges that the European Art Movement is capturing the hearts of the younger generation.
The power of this movie comes from the performances by the two leads newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska and veteran Agata Kulesza. Both actresses portray lost souls. The younger Ida is searching for an answer to who is while Wanda is trying to heal from what and who she lost. Instead of seeking support from each other both women are dealing with their grief individually. This is something not often seen in cinema. Usually when tragedy strikes the family comes together but for the opposite to have occurred makes the story that much more interesting. Wanda deals with her pain by drinking, smoking and having sex with middle aged men. Ida gets lost in the mystery of what the world could possibly offer because she has never known any life outside the convent. Both decisions put the women on their path of healing or emotional repair and it’s fascinating to witness.
Another strength brought forth by the director is the use of silence in the film. The conversations in the film are deliberately closed off. What is so inventive is that because of both women are hurting so much all they can do is ask questions about the other person and that’s what draws the audience in. The compelling question of how do you move forward when it appears as though you have nothing left to fight for?
For it’s part the European Art Movement answers this question through a jazz musician. Late in the film Ida meets this young man and is deeply intrigued by the covers he performs of Polish pop songs and the jazz music of John Coltrane. She wants to be a part of this new world but can’t bring herself to join it due to her vows and you can see the pain on her face because she wants to belong but cannot.
The long takes of this film are really what drew me in. So much of the city is on display thanks to the fantastic medium and tracking shots done by director Pawel Pawlikowski. The way he shoots the close up and holds them on the face of characters constantly has you wondering what they’re feeling even though you could easily figure it out by watching them navigate their world.
A twist at the film’s end grounds the film but also gives it hope that the future could be brighter for both Wanda and Ida. I love intimate pictures like this one because they show us who we are at our lowest and instead of glorifying the choices we make the camera just watches us make them. That respect of space is where Ida shines most and what makes the film such a poignantly sad but beautiful experience.