Take a Drink: for religious iconography
Take a Drink: every time Ida’s aunt smokes
Take a Drink: whenever someone mentions the Jews
Take a Drink: for Soviet-style apartments and hotel rooms
Take a Drink: whenever Aunt Wanda tests Ida’s vows
Do a Shot: for graves
By: Henry J. Fromage (A Toast) –
While great films undoubtedly come out all over the world pretty much all year, unless you are lucky enough to get to an overseas film festival your first chance to see them is generally at the end of the year when distributors are jockeying for awards attention. Well, I have some good news- you don’t have to wait to see one of the most intriguing films of the year.
Nope, I’m talking about Ida, a black and white Polish film about a young orphaned novitiate (Agnata Trzebuchowska) in the 1960s about to take her vows as a nun who is informed by her Mother Superior that she is actually a Jew and has a surviving Aunt (Agata Kulesza), and that before taking the vows she should visit here. She does, and their journey to find out what happened to her parents begins to unravel a darker mystery.
This is a black and white movie opening in 2014, and if you have a problem with that, I hear there’s this shiny toy robot movie you can watch.
Ida accomplishes as much in two colors as 99% of films this year will using the whole spectrum. The film’s dual cinematographers Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski, coupled with director Pavel Pawlikowski deliver truly stunning compositions in light and darkness accentuated by their always just slightly off-kilter framing, which communicates the psychic distance between the characters, their pasts, and the ways they view the place they inhabit in their respective worlds. The lack of soundtrack and use of diegetic sound brings those images to life, makes them inhabited and real.
It’s simply incredible craftsmanship, but it’s still in service of he story, which uses subtleties, hints, and allusions to slowly build a picture of what these characters have lost and the compounding sins of history that cost them so dearly. This slow, naturalistic build makes the eventual revelations absolutely devastating, while avoiding typical Hollywood dramatics. This is a small movie on the surface, but has big implications.
Ida is essentially a two-hander between Trzebuchowska and Kulesza, and both are great. Our lead, with her demure demeanor and those large, enormously expressive inky black eyes seems to hail from a different time, maybe the Silent Film Era.
Dreyer would’ve lost his mind over her.
As good as she is, and she’s heartbreakingly good, Kulesza might be better. Aunt Wanda is the notorious Red Wanda to most, a judge whose pain and suffering at the hands of the Nazis made her into a dispenser of the same in the name of Communism. She’s jaded, haunted even, but she’s grown a tough exterior that gets things done, dammit. The humor she brings to the film through this is welcome, but it’s her grudging rapport with Ida that gives this film its heart.
Ida is a masterpiece of storytelling and filmmaking. Truly one of the finest of the year.