Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida is something of a masterpiece. It is an achingly beautiful, touching and altogether excellent tone piece that confronts its audience with questions of faith, loss and the paradoxical nature of human beings.
The film follows the young novice, Anna. Raised in a convent, believing she is an orphan, Anna is about to take her vows when it is discovered she has a single living relative- an aunt named Wanda. A judge for the Communist Party and a bitter alcoholic, Wanda reveals to Anna her name is in fact Ida Lebenstein. Tied by their common blood, the two otherwise unlikely companions embark on a languid and sometimes strange journey through the bleak wintry Polish countryside, uncovering their family’s dark past.
What is most striking about the film is the beautiful black and white photography that creates this dream-like, almost ethereal atmosphere. The whole film is comprised of striking breathtaking images that feel like they belong on a museum wall. Even if the story does not capture you, it is near impossible to not appreciate the film’s stunning and unique photography.
Ida is anchored by the subtle performance of newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska, a university student discovered by the film’s producers at a café in Poland. Trezbuchowska has a natural screen presence and plays the title character with an innocence and vulnerability that is so rarely captured. Ida is a fascinating foil to her aunt, the bitter, hard-drinking Wanda played with ferocity by Agata Kulesza. Their opposition highlights Pawlikowski’s fascination with paradox and conflict, which are embedded throughout the film in both character and story.
As Ida discovers more haunting details of her past and is brought deeper into the secular, bohemian world of her aunt, Pawlikowski delves into an electric and fascinating exploration of our relationship to faith. Ida’s experiences with Wanda place her in situations where her dedication to her faith is challenged and it is in these moments that the films is most poignant and interesting.
While the film will feel meandering for some audience members, as road movies often are, it has immense rewards for those who observe it with curiosity. It is an astonishingly original, immaculately crafted film that demands to be seen in a cinema, if only because every single frame is exquisite.
Ida is now screening at selected cinemas