A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Ida is my favorite film of the year. There is something superbly mesmerizing about how sheerly perfect this experience is from start to finish. Director Paweł Pawlikowski manages to construct a narrative almost boggling in its simplicity until you realize the gargantuan depths it is able to reach seemingly effortlessly. Ida is a quiet film, fastidious in its remarkable belief in mesmerizing stillness. The film rarely jumps from place to place, instead anchored by the bond between two women: Ana, a young woman in the convent and her aunt Wanda, a former official for the Communist Party of Poland. A lesser, more conventional film would have been content with simply crafting an overwrought melodrama from two women who couldn’t be from more different backgrounds. Pawlikowksi is sharp and cunning with how ardently he espouses the quietness of the film, perfectly content with allowing his characters and surroundings to accomplish all of the dramatic effect. There is no melodramatic flourish required in the film, the expressions on Ana’s and Wanda’s faces when the graves of their murdered Jewish family speaking all the volumes required.
The film takes place in 1961 Poland, a war-torn nation living under the shadows of World War II and the Holocaust it brought in is wake. There’s a weariness to the settings, as if they themselves are steadily drowning under the weight of the past just like the characters. Ana has grown up in a convent, the grief of her parents’ death compounded by the confusion over why her aunt Wanda wouldn’t take her in. There’s confusion, hurt, and a quest for answers all over Ana’s face, yet the answers she seeks are so carefully hidden. For Wanda, her realty stands in sharp contrast to the Soviet bulwark she had become. She was a believer through and through, the Red Wanda who would lay down everything for the sake of party loyalty who now found herself looking about, trying to come to grips with what she had so ardently been a part of. Connecting the two outside of just their bloodline is their shared Jewish heritage and the horrors of their Holocaust past. They both want to escape what came before them and unknowingly they become that very escape for each other.
Agata Kulesza and Agata Trzebuchowska give tremendous performances this year and if I were single-handedly in charge of the Oscars (which is never going to happen), they would walk away with the trophies in the blink of an eye. There’s little dialogue throughout the film and as such, the responsibilities of carrying the emotional heft of the narrative falls squarely on Kulesza and Trzebuchowsla’s shoulders, even though the supporting cast is more than capable of stepping up to the plate and indeed do so. Pawlikowski smartly avoids turning either of them into caricatures. He simply allows the characters to judge each other, Wanda laughing at Ida’s disregard for sexual encounters and Ida alarmed at Wanda’s complete abandonment of any religious ideals of any kind. Yet the journey the two share allows for both of them to come an understanding, all compromises, differences, and similarities included. The two share an embrace as they weep for their murdered family, their grave hauntingly surrounding them.
Pawlikowski adopts a deeply poetic choice in filming Ida in black and white outside of pure aesthetics. Cinematographers Lukasz Ral and Ryszard Leneczewski specially fill every frame with a haunting emptiness but eschewing an austere claustrophobia. Instead the filmmakers go for a vast, open melancholia, as if an aura of death had engulfed the entirety of Poland and the deadpan bleakness was inescapable. And the few moments of exuberance that exist in the short film are fleeting, as if it becomes a pursuit of vanity to grasp onto them. Yet there’s a musical sequence of jazz in a hotel room, where Ida is first faced with a young musician played by the fantastic who awakens a sexual desire within her, even if she denies it. It’s the most vibrant sequence in Ida that subtly uses the thematic underscoring of jazz to represent some sort of hope for the future of Poland and an effort by the film to say that no, not everything is truly dead and wafting away like ashes in the wind. It’s difficult to truly say how uniquely effective Ida is, brimming with a powerful grasp of humanity as it simply follows a quiet journey between two women. There’s little judgment, only a constant desire to allow the most basic of human emotions to portray the story. The result is the most affective film of the year, a purely human experience unlike any other.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Directed by: Paweł Pawlikowski
Produced by: Eric Abraham, Piotr Dzieciol, Ewa Puszczynska
Written by: Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Paweł Pawlikowski
Starring: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, Dawid Ogrodnik
Music: Kristian Eidnes Andersen
Cinematography: Lukasz Zal, Ryszard Lenczewski
Editing: Jaroslaw Kaminski
Running Time: 80 minutes
Release Dates: 7 September 2013 (TIFF), 11 September 2013 (Poland)
Image Courtesy: The New York Post