Ida Review
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“Ida” is a 2013 film directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. It takes us on a journey back to post World War II Poland where a young soon to be nun- Anna learns about her true identity before taking her vows.

This film is everything contemporary cinema isn’t: black and white, slow paced with dialogue kept to a minimum. To some this may be discouraging, however once convention is set aside, Ida blossoms into a dark, yet beautifully intimate and moving story.

Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is an 18 year old orphan who has spent her entire life in a convent.  Deeply religious, she is preparing to take vows to become a nun. A few days prior to the event she is asked to visit her only living relative- aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza). Visibly bitter and depressed, Wanda reveals to the girl that her real name is Ida Lebenstein and that she is a Jew whose parents were murdered during the Nazi occupation. After a brief shock, Ida decides to visit the place of her parents’ death and find their graves.

Wanda’s initial aloofness toward her niece proves to be nothing more than a façade. She picks up Ida from the bus station and they both embark on a journey to the past.

For Ida, the journey is mostly to discover who she really is before going back to the convent, however for Wanda it is much more than that-  it is tackling and burying her past that has been eating away at her for several years.

The man who supposedly buried the women’s family members- Szymon (Jerzy Trela) is bedridden in the hospital and while waiting for him to go back home, the two spend their time at a local hotel.

During this time, we learn more about the characters. It becomes very evident to the viewer that Ida and Wanda are complete opposites. Modest and sheltered Ida doesn’t talk much to people, let alone look at them. This is especially evident when the two women pick up a hitchhiker dubbed Lis (Dawid Ogrodnik). The man is a member of a band that tours around Poland and they happen to be playing a couple of gigs at the hotel. Ida is intrigued by Lis, however too shy to carry a conversation. She is fascinated by the band’s music, especially the sound of the saxophone. The jazz music moves her deeply allowing the doors of self-discovery to finally open.

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On the other side of the spectrum there is Wanda- a judge and former prosecutor.

An intelligent but gloomy and somewhat promiscuous alcoholic in her forties who couldn’t be further away from God even if she tried. Like most addicts, Wanda suffers from severe trauma whose origin is revealed later on in the film.

The paradox here is that both women, even though so different from each other are equally lonely and alienated. One could view this as an ultimate symbol of life in a communist society.

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To better understand this film it is essential to realize the suffering the Polish nation was forced to endure for so many years. Even though the War had ended putting a stop to the carnage of the Nazi occupation, the nation remained under suppression, only this time it came from the eastern neighbors.

It is so obvious from Wanda’s behavior that even though the war ended years ago, she is still suffering from its’ aftermath. Contrary to Ida, she is spiritually dead and aware of the confinement she lives in, however too defeated to put a stop to her ever growing depression.

On the bright side Ida is a film about self- discovery, human kindness and personal freedom that can only come from within. However, its’ darker side reveals a story of loss of hope and self destruction.

Pawel Pawlikowski’s approach to this story was to make it as simple and authentic as possible. The film is shot in black and white and the language spoken is Polish. What adds to the overall gloominess is the post war communist décor and a late fall/early winter scenery.

What deserves special recognition is Agata Kulesza’s superb acting. Cold hearted and aloof on the surface, we almost immediately know that deep down inside she is the complete opposite. Kulesza portrays Wanda as a woman who had the potential to exceed expectations, however life’s circumstances slowly but surely sucked the life out of her leading her to lose hope completely. Kulesza definitely delivers a powerful and multi- layered performance.

A newbie in the acting world- Agata Trzebuchowska delivers a somewhat unpolished yet powerful performance.  Her quiet, stoic demeanor is truly mesmerizing. Not to mention her subtle beauty, which is especially stunning when she ditches her habit in favor of a dress and a pair of high heels.

Ultimately, it is not clear which path Ida decides to take. What is evident though is that her decision resonates confidence and stillness. She has discovered who she is, has seen enough to be aware of what she wants and doesn’t want. She has the courage to follow her heart. She is free despite all the social and political constraints.

 

Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski

Starring: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, Jerzy Trela, Dawid Ogrodnik

US release: May 2014.

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