Pawlikowski films in his native Poland for the first time
by Charel Muller, Cineuropa
The film tackles issues of identity, religion and dealing with a dark past.
Ida is UK-based director Pawel Pawlikowski’s first film made in his native Poland. Thus it is only fitting that his work is presented in his adopted home at the London Film Festival after taking top honours at the Gdynia Film Festival.
Selected for the official competition, Ida is a slow, low-key, old-fashioned movie about identity, religion and dealing with a dark past. Shot in beautiful black and white and a nowadays rarely used aspect ratio of 4:3, the film is set in the early 1960’s in Poland and has a particular sense of this period, in which the shadow of the war was still ubiquitous.
The plot revolves around Ida (newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska), a young woman who grew up in a monastery and is about to take her vows to become a nun. Ida is an extremely quiet, timid young girl, with a strong sense of right and wrong. In many ways, she is the epitome of innocence (which is perfectly captured by Trzebuchowska).
Before committing her life to God, Ida is encouraged to contact her only living relative, her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza). Wanda’s personality is the exact opposite of Ida’s. She is openly emotional and not afraid to express her opinions. Her profession - she is a judge - also contrasts with Ida’s vocation as a nun. Together, the pairing decides to investigate the disappearance of Ida’s parents, who were Jewish fugitives during the war.
Wanda had clearly delayed this task as long as possible, afraid of the truth. Rather than focus on the investigation and the mystery of what happened, Pawlikowski prefers to explore the odd relationship between the two lead characters, which both have demons to deal with. For the first hour, the film works really well. The chemistry between the lead characters who grow closer and closer is tangible as Ida confronts an identity crisis (is she a Catholic or a Jew?) and Wanda deals with her own wartime past.
It is a real shame that the final part lets the rest of the movie down, as it becomes slightly melodramatic and predictable.
The real star of Ida is however the cinematography. Pawlikowski and his DP Lukasz Zal chose to convey meaning and build the characters through images rather than the sparse dialogue and come up with extraordinary images. Every shot seems meticulously composed, frequently using unusual camera angles and framings.
Furthermore the photography, the black and white contrast, the different shades of grey, are gorgeous and make Ida a cinematic experience which ought to be seen on the big screen.
Toronto (Special Presentations): FIPRESCI Prize, Telluride, London (Competition): Best Film, Sundance (Spotlight)
Acclaimed director Pawel Pawlikowski (Last Resort, My Summer of Love) returns to his homeland for this moving and intimate drama about a young novitiate nun in 1960s Poland who, on the verge of taking her vows, discovers a dark family secret dating from the terrible years of the Nazi occupation.
In this spare, stark, and oh-so-beautifully directed film, Pawel Pawlikowski returns to his native Poland for the first time in his career to confront some of the more contentious issues in the history of his birthplace. Few subjects are as controversial and as emotional as what passed between Polish Catholics and Jews during the Second World War. Pawlikowski, who created his reputation in England with films like Last Resort and My Summer of Love, has made what is surely one of the most powerful and affecting films of the year.
Shooting in black and white, and using the 1.37:1 Academy frame — the almost-square frame of classic cinema — Pawlikowski sets his film in sixties Poland. A novitiate nun, about to take her vows in the Catholic Church, is told by her Mother Superior that she will be accepted into the church after she has visited her aunt. The young and prim Anna soon finds herself in the presence of the middle-aged Wanda, her mother’s sister, a raven-haired sensualist. It is here that her past — and her real name, Ida — is revealed to her for the first time. This triggers a remarkable journey into the countryside, to the family house, and to secrets that Pawlikowski ruthlessly exposes.
This film is impeccably executed and judged, achingly written, finely structured and eloquently shot. Scene after scene is a masterly evocation of a time, a dilemma, and a defining historical moment; yet Ida is also personal, intimate, and human. The weight of history is everywhere, but the scale falls within the scope of a young woman learning about the secrets of her own past. This intersection of the personal with momentous historic events is gauged to perfection in a film that will have everyone reaching for superlatives. (--Mubi)
Black and White
DIR Paweł Pawlikowski
EXEC Christian Falkenberg Husum
PROD Eric Abraham, Piotr Dzieciol, Ewa Puszczynska
SCR Paweł Pawlikowski, Rebecca Lenkiewicz
DP Lukasz Zal, Ryszard Lenczewski
CAST Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, Adam Szyszkowski, Joanna Kulig, Dawid Ogrodnik
ED Jarosław Kamiński
PROD DES Marcel Slawinski, Katarzyna Sobanska-Strzalkowska
MUSIC Kristian Eidnes Andersen
SOUND Claus Lynge