“Ida” is yet another great example of the crop of European films that explore existential ideas during times of war that are shown through the eyes of young women. This coming from a director out of Poland, Pawil Pawlikowski, and emulating some of the works of the great Polish director Krzysztof Keislowski (1989’s “Dekalog” English Title: “The Decalogue”, 1993-1994’s “Three Colors” Trilogy) whom explored similar themes. I also found myself drawing up comparisons to a great German film I saw just this past year – Cate Shortland’s 2012’s “Lore”. Which followed a young girl in post WWII Germany whose parents flee and she is left to care for her many even younger siblings who are left behind, also while fleeing Allied forces. These are raw, human stories about the determination of strong young women who rise up in times of crisis, and in the process, go on a journey of self discovery throughout the process.
The film centers around the titular character, who we meet at the beginning of the film as a young nun in a convent. We quickly find out that she is an orphan, and the sisters there encourage her to go and seek out a family member who has been writing her before she takes her vows to become a nun. Ida goes and finds her aunt, who is slightly unwelcoming at first but who begins to show her pictures of her parents, allowing Ida a first glimpse into the story of her family. The aunt further explains that she knows of a man who may be alive and might know what happened to her parents. The two of them then embark on a journey, unlocking many secrets along the way. It is during this journey that Ida begins to discover herself, and in turn starts to question her religious faith, sexuality, and what family truly means to her. I would go into more detail about where the plot goes, but I’m afraid I’d be giving away too much.
I thought Pawlikowski did a great job not with just exploring the heady themes he does here, but from a cinematic standpoint, how uses black and white film to really capture the setting. This gives it a more naturalistic look. The icy, cold, wintry landscapes also give the story a more authentic feel. It features a bold performance by the young and obviously very talented actress Agata Trzebuchowska, who’s beauty shines through but who is equally as effective in showing grief, pain, and sadness, especially in her determination to find out the truth. I also liked how music played a key role in almost every scene, and plays an even more pivotal role in Ida’s liberation. My only criticism of the piece is that it’s a bit slow to start, and really the “meat” of the film is entirely in its 2nd act. At a brisk 82 minutes long, I personally felt as if they could have taken the story further. That being said, I thought Pawlikowski did a rather deft job at creating a dense story within such a short running time. If you enjoyed movies like 2008’s “Doubt” or 2012’s “Stories We Tell” I could see you really enjoying something like this. For others looking to just sit back and be entertained, I think they’ll find its pacing to be a tad slow at times, and its themes a bit too deep. That being said, I thought it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Grade: strong B