Acclaimed director Pawel Pawlikowski returns with Ida: a film about identity; wherein history is revisited with understanding and modesty, exquisite photography and a wonderful central performance from Agata Trzebuchowska. ida’s power is in its simplicity; never drastic, sparse or philosophical, only ever beautiful.
Ida tells the story of Ida Lebenstein. a naïve nun sent out into the wider world to meet her last remaining family member; world-weary aunt Wanda, whose revelation that Ida is Jewish, (and that her name is Ida), creates an investigative drama around the hunt for Ida’s Jewish ancestry in rural Poland; testing her faith and any misconceptions she might have had about her past along the way.
Wanda, whose deadpan demeanour, pleasure seeking personality and profession as a judge make her an unlikely companion for Ida, whose upbringing in a convent make her timid and diffident. Blood is stronger than personality however, and it’s this; Wanda’s underlying care for Ida, that gives the film a real, rich emotional underpinning, and is the charge behind Wanda and Ida’s intimate scenes, such as the scene before Ida’s re admittance into the convent; proving a testament to the connection between these two, otherwise polar opposite individuals.
Ida’s minimal, ascetic style utilises monochromatic photography, and is reminiscent both of Bresson’s clean eschewal of decoration and of Tarkovsky’s rural spirituality; It’s like a long, cold drink of crystal clear water; cleansing for the palette and refreshingly simple. Though make no mistake, it’s not simply a return to a bygone age in cinema, Ida’s themes of identity and experience are timeless and universal.
Unlike the French master Robert Bresson, whose brand of minimalism focuses on the essential and the natural at the expense of the dramatic, Ida feels like a work of drama; at times heightened, at times dormant. It’s quiet and precise, but never stops feeling dramatic, telling its tale with grace and poise; as simply as possible, in wholly simple surroundings.
Ida and Wanda’s search for identity takes them across Poland, where their time together helps develop a bond that seems to strike both characters more than either would expect. Ida experiences a complete departure from the only life she’d ever known, and this childlike timidity is expressed perfectly in Agata Trzebuchowska’s performance.
After Ida’s return to convent life she seems distant and detached; a far cry from the old Ida. Ida protracts the taking of her vows, choosing to experience the freedom of life on the outside world (with a new vigour); before realising that her place is with her sisters in the quiet of the convent, arriving with eyes newly awakened as the film closes.
This considered work of masterful precision and minimalism is as it should be; a powerful story told as simply as possible, with a perfect central performance. Ida is a uniquely interesting addition to the rich canon of Polish cinema, and is recommended viewing for anyone with even a general interest in film.