Movie Review #916


Limited release on May 2, 2014. Drama. This film is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and smoking. Runs 82 minutes. Polish-Danish co-production, with additional French and British involvement. Director: Pawel Pawlikowski. Screenplay: Pawel Pawlikowski and Rebecca Lenkiewicz. Cast: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, David Ogrodnik, Jerzy Trela, Adam Szyszkowski, Halina Skoczynska, and Joanna Kulig.


By Alexander Diminiano

“Ida” is an incredible film. As far as mise-en-scène goes, you won’t find very many films that produce it as finely as this one. The cinematography is complex. It is filmed in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which has remained virtually unused by feature films since the early 1950’s, and offers a more constrictive atmosphere through its nearly square image. Particularly with the bleakly applied black-and-white, this is really evocative cinematography. The set design is entirely spartan, as a contribution to the feeling of emptiness felt by the main character. And yet director Pawel Pawlikowski takes every bit of it into account. He tells this story delicately. Fragilely.

“Ida” narrates the experiences of Anna, a young nun in 1960’s Poland whose vows cannot be accepted by the Catholic Church until she visits her family. She consults her Aunt Wanda, a lawyer with ties to the Stalinist regime. Anna learns that she was born a Jew with the name Ida Lebenstein. Her parents, both Jewish, were killed during the Holocaust. (At this point in history, antisemitism still affects the mentality of Polish Catholics.) Anna was never aware that her parents had died, though. Even if her prioress may never accept her vows to the Catholic Church, Anna wants more than ever now to visit her parents’ resting place, wherever that might be.

“Ida” tells its story in 82 minutes, but truly, time seems to have no relevance to the narrative. The narrative seems to clock in at least two hours, but only due to the fact that it’s told with such care. The pacing echoes the natural rhythm of breathing. In between each spoken line is a meditating hold–the intake of breath, felt before the brief exhalation of another character’s line. It’s very contemplative filmmaking, and it adds to the depressing nature of the film.

“Ida” is as breakable as fine glass: you turn your attention away from it for a second, and all of a sudden, it’s as if you’ve lost the movie completely. The movie grounds itself so solemnly into reality–not its reality, but a reality that we are aware of, which writers Pawlikowski (the director) and Rebecca Lenkiewicz channel in such a way that we can relate to. It’s not the same as just watching a movie; the drama is so poignantly, authentically captured, that it’s like watching reality as it happens.