Listen to the review by Dennis Morton above, or read it below.
Ida, as we say in English, (the name is pronounced eeda in Polish) is a film that could as well be called Ida & Wanda, or so it seems to me.
I’ve watched Ida four times and each time I’ve been more touched, more moved. But I’m also convinced that it’s as much a portrait of Ida’s aunt, Wanda, as it is of Ida.
We first meet Ida in a rural Polish convent, which ostensibly doubles as an orphanage. The time is the early sixties. Ida has spent almost all of her 18 years there. And as the movie opens, she’s about a week or so away from taking her vows – i.e. becoming a full fledged nun.
It is at this point that the Mother Superior wisely counsels Ida to visit her Aunt Wanda, a relative whose existence Ida had not known of. Reluctantly, Ida boards a bus to a nearby city and a few scenes later is knocking on her Aunt Wanda’s door. And this is where the film really begins.
I won’t attempt to pronounce the names of the marvelous actors who populate this story. Suffice it to say, the performances are stellar. I’ll take a stab at the director’s name though – Pawel Pawlikowski. Among his credits are the films My Summer Of Love and The Woman In The Fifth.
So…. what’s this movie about? Well, among other things, it’s about an abiding anti-Semitism. It’s about innocence, courage, first love, and an enduring sense of loss. And it’s very much about the afflictions, both emotional and physical, that flow from that loss. It’s also about faith, and fear, and the allure of the known, of what we have grown comfortable with.
When Ida meets Wanda, she quickly comes face to face with behavior she’s presumably never before encountered. Wanda is a chain smoker. She’s brutally frank. She’s an alcoholic and, as she describes herself – a slut. And that’s just her personal life. Professionally, her ‘work’ has ranged from being a resistance fighter against the Nazis, to a big time prosecutor with the Kremlin-installed Polish government, to her current role as a judge.
Watching Ida and Wanda influence each other’s behavior is at the heart of the film. I won’t tell you why Wanda’s path has been so tortuous, or how it came to be that Ida was raised in a convent. This we discover gradually, as the film unfolds under a stark winter sky.
Ida is shot in very compelling black & white, and, with one exception, with a stationary camera. Hollywood tricks are not in Pawlikowski’s bag.
A friend suggests that Ida closes with a beguiling ambiguity. I leave that up to you to discover, and to agree or disagree with. I am content to see Ida as an exploration of motives and causes for a range of human behaviors that run the gamut from unquestioning obedience to unbridled entitlement.
One thing’s for sure: if you’d like a clean break from Tinsel Town trivia, you’ll find it in Ida. I highly recommend it.