(2014 - Director: Pawel Pawlikowski Cast: Agata Trzebuchowska, Agata Kulesza)
Ida has a crazy gravitational pull. Every image is so poetic, so breathtaking, that I continually got lost while trying to soak it in with my eyes. If a coffee table book containing each shot from this film existed, I would buy it in a heartbeat.
The story of Ida follows a young novitiate nun in 1960s Poland as she meets her only living kin, her Aunt Wanda, for the first time in her life. Ida is weeks away from taking her final vows but, after learning her parents were killed during the war, is determined to find their grave. Ida and Wanda then embark on a life-changing road trip to dig up the past. They represent the opposite spectrums of a moral and religious scale, which sets up plenty of humorous and heartfelt moments.
It’s not all dreary, despite being filmed in stunning black and white. Director Pawel Pawlikowski does more with character and plot by using silence and spacing than most films try to accomplish using dialogue. It feels like a film from a bygone art film era. The unusual framing takes advantage of the boxy 1.37:1 aspect ratio; a ratio well suited for framing actors. Every shot (save the last two) are static. There is never a pan or tilt. No camera movements whatsoever. Pawlikowski would sometimes shoot a scene with no more than one or two setups. The long shot length, coupled with the lighting and composition, let emotional beats and environments sink in. Your eyes are supposed to wander. There are very few close-ups for this very reason.
But more importantly, the visual style is a constant reminder of what Ida is experiencing. She’s never dealt with the outside world and all its temptations. As a person of faith and stability, her view of the world beyond the convent is one of reflective curiosity. Even when major plot points happen, Ida is reserved. Emotions are held back. Rather than seeing gnashing of teeth, the “big” moments have a powerful and intimate impact. It’s almost as if Ida is constantly taking notes, analyzing what the world has to offer before she decides if she wants to take her vows or not. From that perspective, it’s a very spiritual film. We are watching these characters through the eyes of wonder and a higher calling.
The historical presence this film evokes shouldn’t be passed over. The story of Nazi-occupied Poland and the echoes of pain and struggles that survived the war can be found here in the background. It’s not that the historical perspective isn’t important and worthy of a bigger theme in this story, but rather, the repercussions of the war are represented in a single person, Ida (and I suppose, to a lesser extent, the Polish farmer). With so many stories about WWII, it’s refreshing to get a personal story that isn’t trying to get across some big message. War is simply another journal entry in Ida’s mental collection of notes about the world. Even though there were endless horrors and crimes, Ida only needed to learn about her own. And that was enough for her.
Ida is a short film, coming in around 80 minutes. It’s not much more than an hour long drama. It was hard not wanting more time with this film. I didn’t want it to end. My TV-infused brain wanted this to be the first episode in a mini-series. Oh well. It’s better to have one lovely film that keeps you wanting more, rather than 8 episodes that never live up to the first episode. It’s conveniently on Netflix for those that are interested. It surely will be nominated for at least one Oscar come January.