Ida has been compared to classic Polish cinema of the 1960s, talked about in the same light as movies called masterpieces. Without an astonishing knowledge of the films of Poland at that time, I was instead reminded many times of Loves of a Blonde (1965) a Czechoslovakian film made by the great Milos Forman. A delicate and marvellous depiction of the social mingling of male soldiers and female factory workers. This is movie is much more of a comedy though, but the stylist similarities to Ida are difficult to avoid. Nor would we want to.
Ida is somehow reminiscent of more popular European classics too; framed like rich postcards (A bout de souffle?), capturing the simple human movements (Jules et Jim?), lingering expressions (Le Samourai?), or even the flaunting of ample bare flesh, while never being gratuitous (Darling?). I thought of those movies, admirably, but only fleetingly, as I was dedicated wholly to Ida. Pawel Pawlikowski has executed a film that looks and feels like those they made in Europe in the sixties. Those great elementary movies of expression and social grandeur. Whether it is a homage to that cinematic era or an attempt at being authentic is really not an issue for debate at this time, as it appears refreshingly original in the modern day arena. A breath of fresh air.
Having just finished watching it the word too describe it was immaculate. In fact I was aware of this while watching it. You watch a movie and sometimes wonder where it will take you. Will it shift somehow to make me feel less about it? It did not. Could it be possible that the movie would go in a different direction and make me love it more? It could not. Some movie experiences blow you out of your seat. Some you forget about. Some make your eyelids heavy. Some movies distract you, or don’t captivate you enough that you become easily distracted by anything other than the movie. Ida is a quiet little movie that sits beside you, and is your friend for life.
This is a black and white movie, but that is anything but diverting. In fact it looks striking. Characters are framed almost at the foot of the frame at times, away from the centre, yet this does not give the impression that they, or the surroundings, are not important. It makes you think about the relevance of that though. The movie is so tightly written and well made, there is no fat whatsoever on the meat. The story is told in pictures, and hardly any words – in fact what characters don’t say moves the development forward as effectively as dialogue or action. And although set in a time of Nazi occupied Poland, this never gets lodged in your throat, it is the historical backdrop for Ida’s journey – this is her story.
Being told your name, faith and heritage are not quite what you thought must be an extremely tough cross to bare. Anna, not realising she is in fact Jewish and called Ida, hardly reacts at all. As a nun we understand her upbringing has perhaps not accommodated for an outburst to be an appropriate response to that kind of news. Any kind of outburst would be very appropriate though. Ida is suffering internally thereafter, we can see it, just about, in that face. Agata Trzebuchowska carries all the emotion in her face, with that sullen, open frame and very dark, almost animated, eyes. She is like a beautiful fish in pond we cannot take our eyes from. It’s a remarkable performance, as good as any with so little dialogue. Her expressions and body language suggest intrigue and longing, and do a lot of the talking.
On the flip side is Agata Kulesza’s Wanda, Ida’s aunt and the breaker of revelatory news. She is a promiscuous, heavy drinking woman who speaks her mind and likely knows no other way. But she knows the anguish of life, and has an underlying melancholy. Although something of an odd couple, Ida is certainly more comfortably guided by the boisterous and brittle Wanda into her new, unknown future than she seems to be in her routine lifestyle as a nun. At one point late in the movie, during mealtime with the other nuns, Ida lets out a spontaneous little laugh – something tickled her and we know it is surely from her time with Wanda. The other nuns frown upon such gestures of joy, and it is a very clear sign where Ida’s story will go next.
There is, as you have read, so much to say about a movie with hardly any complexities, but so much depth of story-telling and film-making. The intimately open scenes with Ida and a sax player have you yearning for a forbidden love. The movie touches on the elements of history and impact of not taking your vows, but never tramples them all over the narrative. I imagine some will get lost at times in the simplicity of it all, but for me that is part of the investment. And I had little choice in the matter, while I was still engrossed in the eighty minute movie I was already trying to rationalise my own thoughts on whether this might be the best I’ve seen this year.