Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska), a young novitiate nun is on the verge of taking her vows, when she is sent out of the convent to meet her aunt; her only living relative. Wanda (Agata Kulesza) tells her niece that she is actually Jewish, and her parents were killed in the war. Wanting to see where her parents are buried, Ida takes Wanda on a journey across Poland that uncovers dark secrets about the family she never knew.
Awarded Best Director for Paweł Pawlikowski at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival earlier this year, there is the feeling that we have seen this story, or at least parts of it, before. However Pawlikowski makes a familiar story new through his beautiful use of black and white cinematography and sparing dialogue.
Agata Trzebuchowska is mesmerising in the titular role; her stillness and seeming desire to be unseen by the world only increases our – and the camera’s – desire to observe her. Agata Kulesza plays Wanda as a woman hardened by her experiences, seeks love in the wrong places but who still has a caring heart, and Dawid Ogrodnik plays Lis, a gentle and sensitive soul.
The story, as mentioned, is one that we have heard tell of before; a young woman forced to accept that everything she thought was true has actually got a shadow across it, and the fallout from this revelation. The difference with Ida, however, is the stillness that comes from having a deeply pious protagonist. There are very few arguments, and although emotions run high, they are quickly stilled. The dialogue is minimal, so much of the communication in the film is non-verbal, adding to the silence and stillness of the film, and adding weight to the seriousness of the central character.
Paweł Pawlikowski directs with a steady and confident hand, allowing silnce to happen, allowing the camera to be static much of the time, and allowing many of the shots to almost looks like still images. Beautifully and crisply shot in black and white, Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal’s cinematography is often deliberately off kilter; showing characters in the corner of the frame, or having them swamped in their surroundings. This serves to highlight the fact that something is not right in Ida’s world, as well as reinforce the fact that Trzebuchowska is a young woman with presence, as the audience – and the camera – is consistently drawn back to her.
In all, Ida is a familiar tale told in a beautiful and engaging new manner. Trzebuchowska is magnetic in the lead role, but an equally strong supporting cast surrounds her. The cinematography is beautiful and, while there are times when the film lacks surprises, this also serves to make a comment about Ida and the world she inhabits.