Saturday 20 March 2021

Movie Review: Ida (2013)

A gloomy quest to peel away mysteries of the past, Ida is a gorgeously filmed personal drama exploring history's lingering resonance.

In Poland of the early 1960s, Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a novice nun about to take her vows, unaware of any surviving relatives. Her superior reveals that an aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza) has finally come forward and wants to meet Anna. Wanda is a vivacious magistrate, unafraid to have sex with a succession of strangers. She reveals Anna's real name is Ida, and that their family is Jewish.

During World War Two Ida's parents were first hidden by villagers then murdered and buried in unmarked graves. Ida and Wanda embark on a journey of discovery to their ancestral village, and meet young musician Lis (Dawid Ogrodnik) along the way. Extracting information about the final days of Ida's parents will prove difficult, and both Ida and Wanda are changed by the revelations to come.

At just 82 minutes long, director and writer PaweĊ‚ Pawlikowski creates a potent road trip through the landscape of unease. With minimal dialogue, startling black and white cinematography and a bleak sense of place, Ida casts a spell despite a sparse narrative, the untold atrocities of war haunting victims and perpetrators alike.

Ida's story touches on themes of support, suppression, culpability and sorrow, the treatment of Jewish families during the war here a topic with no heroic outcome. Ida is drawn to find her parents' grave, and surprisingly so is the seemingly more aloof Wanda, who has her own deeply personal reasons hiding beneath her cool and collected superficial demeanour. 

Aunt and niece get to know each other and both implicitly and explicitly challenge their core beliefs. Ida seeks a life serving God as an orphan's pathway to contentment, Wanda's communist ideals forged during the war afford her a societal place of prominence, but both have vulnerable holes in their hearts awaiting fulfilment through knowledge.

Pawlikowski fills his static, off-centre framing with remarkable tension, often offering just tantalizing hints about what is unseen, while careful silence and circumspection are used to stoke the drama. Both central actresses sparkle in their roles, newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska hauntingly expressive through searching eyes, while Agata Kulesza hides pain behind caustic mannerisms.

Brimming with understated longing, Ida dares to poke at tender scars. 

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