US Release Date: 05-02-2014
Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski
- Agata Kulesza, as
- Agata Trzebuchowska, as
- Dawid Ogrodnik, as
- Jerzy Trela, as
- Adam Szyszkowski, as
- Halina Skoczynska, as
- Mother Superior
- Joanna Kulig, as
- Dorota Kuduk as
Agata Kulesza and Agata Trzebuchowska in Ida
Ida is Poland’s submission for consideration as a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Its subject matter is one we expect from a European drama gunning for an award. Filmed in black and white and with minimal dialogue, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it is touching and you may, like me, find the ending wonderfully surprising.
Ida is a novitiate in 1960s Poland, preparing to become a nun. Prior to taking her vows, she is told by her mother superior that she must first pay a visit to her estranged Aunt, who has finally answered one of the nun’s letters. Ida and her Aunt Wanda could not be any different if they tried. They meet in Wanda’s apartment, where Wanda smokes a cigarette in her bathrobe while her latest lover dresses in the bedroom. Here, Ida learns the first of several family secrets.
Wanda, a judge, decides to take Ida on a road trip to discover what became of their family during World War II. Wanda asks Ida, “What if you go there and discover there is no God?” Although Wanda has a clue as to what happened to their family, Ida and the audience are clueless.
You would be hard pressed to find two more different women than Wanda and Ida. When waiting for a man to return to his home so as to question him, Ida prays in a church while Wanda drinks in a bar. Ida takes everything in stride while Wanda is a tough cookie. When talking to the man they waited for, Wanda makes like Judge Judy, informing him that she can tell when someone is lying. She punctuates the conversation with, “I can destroy you.”
While driving down a road, Wanda asks Ida if she ever has carnal thoughts. Ida answers no but this is before Wanda picks up Lis, a handsome hitchhiking saxophone player who invites the two ladies to hear his jazz band perform. As this film runs less than an hour and a half, I already feel like I have given too much away so I will stop here. The dramatic bedrock of this film is watching these two women discover and come to terms with their past, present and future.
This is Agata Trzebuchowska's film debut. She was literally picked out of a crowd and asked to audition. She has very little to do but maintain a very serious expression throughout the film. However, she does quite a bit with that one look. Agata Kulesza steals the movie as Wanda, who is tortured by the past. She is a strong person but she, like everyone, has a breaking point.
The only face on screen that may seem at all familiar is the lead singer of the jazz band. The gorgeous Joanna Kulig had a small role in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013). As good as she looks, this movie belongs to two very different women who take a journey that will affect them both in ways they, and we, do not expect.
Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza in Ida.
Shot in stark yet beautiful black and white cinematography, Ida takes the viewer on a literal and emotional journey into its two main characters' past. As Ida and Wanda search out the truth about the fate of their relatives during WWII, they change each others' lives forever. Ida has led a sheltered, pious life cloistered behind the walls of a convent, while Wanda has seen and done it all – but is now a burnt out shell of her former powerful self.
Eric mentioned one specific conversation they have in the car. After hearing how pure Ida claims to be in both thought and deed, Wanda asks her the movie's key question. “What sort of sacrifice are these vows of yours?” Pointing out the fact that the degree of one's sacrifice is in direct proportion to the degree of one's temptation. Resisting something you have no interest in, isn't a sacrifice at all. This idea plays an important role in Ida's life later on.
1960's Poland is vividly conjured. There are many shots of vintage automobiles driving down desolate country roads with snow covered fields in the background. The director takes great care in setting up these shots, each one being meticulously framed (see photo). Shot for shot this is one of the most beautifully crafted and visually poetic films I've ever had the pleasure of watching.
As mentioned above, the story moves at a very languid pace; there are entire scenes containing little to no dialogue. For the most part this works because these two characters are so intriguing and their situation is equally compelling. Eventually we learn the reason why Wanda has always resented her niece and why she never before agreed to meet her.
My one very minor complaint is this. Despite being only about 80 minutes long, at times Ida feels like a short story stretched into a novella (it's not long enough to be called a novel). Watching this film is a bit like reading a book where the author constantly goes into great detail describing the surroundings. Pawlikowski intentionally lingers on mundane moments thus luring the viewer into complacency only to treat a very shocking moment that happens late in the film, casually. In fact, if you look away for more than a second or two you will miss it altogether.
Since Eric didn't give away certain key information regarding the plot, I won't either. But I don't understand why he wrote that the audience is clueless as to what happened to Ida's parents. Like Wanda we have a pretty good general idea of their fate, it is only the details that have to be revealed as the story unfolds. Both women give fine performances but I agree with my brother that Agata Kulesza steals the movie as Wanda. But then she has the far showier role to begin with. It may be called Ida but the most fascinating character in the film is Wanda.
Agata Kulesza and Agata Trzebuchowska in Ida.
Ida was not only nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, but also earned a Cinematography nomination. This latter nomination is particularly well earned. As Patrick wrote, this is one beautifully crafted movie. Many scenes are constructed like works of art. The misty Polish landscape is stunning despite its damp greyness. The camera also lingers on the faces of its two very different leads. The world weary visage of Agata Kulesza as Wanda and the innocent Agata Trzebuchowska as Ida are a study in contrasts.
Although the story is touching and even moving at times, like Patrick I found it to be a bit stretched. His comparison to a short story is an apt one. If you edited out the long lingering scenes and stripped the film down to the essential plot, it would easily run under an hour. And speaking of the plot, isn't there a major hole at the center of it? How did the Mother Superior know that Wanda was Ida's aunt? Like my brothers I don't want to give away the film's secrets, but Ida was given to the church as an unidentified baby, so when did it come out that she was related to Wanda?
I agree with my brothers that Agata Kulesza steals the film as Wanda. Her's is the showier part and she makes the most of it. She's on a self-destructive course of alcohol, cigarettes, and men. Her worldliness, as weary of it as she is of herself, is exactly what Ida needs. That isn't to say that Trzebuchowska, who as Eric noted is making her debut performance, isn't good. Ida internalizes everything creating a much more subtle performance that she still manages to add layers and nuances to.
Like Eric I thought the ending was wonderful. It sets itself up to make you think it will end in a fairly predictable manner, but then switches gears to a much more satisfying ending.
Despite the good performances and interesting storyline, it's the visuals that will remain with me the longest. The stark black and white photography shot in a now archaic square aspect ratio gives it the look of a film actually shot in the 1960s. In a word, it's stunning.
Photos © Copyright Canal+ Polska (2014)