Director Pawel Pawlikowski started as a documentary filmmaker in England, but most only took notice of him in 2004 when he directed My Summer of Love. His latest film, Ida, won best film at the London Film Festival last year and is Poland’s official submission for the 2015 Academy Awards.
Anna (Agata Traebuchowska), a soon-to-be nun, is advised by Mother Superior to go and meet her only living family, aunt “Red” Wanda (Agata Kulesza), before taking her vows on the following week. Wanda is a lived woman, very different from Anna – I’m a slut and you are a little saint – but she takes a special care on her niece and decides to help her find her parents’ grave. Anna finds out her real name is actually Ida, and her parents, both Jewish, disappeared during the war. While traveling with her aunt, she sees a world she never had contact before, and starts to question her real vocation.
Polish cinema is famous for its sobriety and subtlety, and Ida is no exception to this rule. The beautiful and award-winning cinematography, by Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal, evokes Bergman’s classic period. The delicate, off-center framing, the shadows, the choice of black and white and even the unusual format, makes the film look like a forgotten classic from the european cinema of the 60s. Add to it the slow, yet precise editing, and the long takes, and this film could not be further from most things in the cinemas nowadays. It is a pleasure to the eyes and to the soul, and each frame is indeed a painting.
But Ida is not only looks. Agata Kulesza is mostly known in Poland for her TV work, but here she is perfect as the older woman, with a dark past and an ennui of the life she wants her niece to try. And the real star, and true revelation, Traebuchowska – she was found in a cafe by a friend of Pawlikowski and had to be convinced to come in for an audition. For the director, the casting of the main character was essential for the story to work, and newcomer Traebuchowska had it all – a fantastic acting instinct, and the charisma and look of a goddess of the Golden Age of Cinema. She could easily just been stolen from a Dreyer film. Luckily for us, Ida is hopefully the stepping stone that will allow us to see her in the screens again, very soon.
On top of all this, the story, mostly told in silences and little gestures. It is so rare for a film nowadays to leave the connecting the dots to the spectator, that you’ll wonder at the end why you know so much when so little was shown. It is moving, sparse, delicate. Do not be deceived by the apparent simplicity, though – Ida will stay with you for longer than you can imagine.
Ida is in cinemas now.