Polish filmmaker Paweł Pawlikowski’s Ida, which deals with a young woman’s journey towards becoming a nun, is of the most beautiful films ever made.
Directors of Photography:
Running time: 80 minutes
With Ida, Polish filmmaker Paweł Pawlikowski may have created one of the most visually stunning motion pictures of all time. Harking back to the era of Carl Theodor Dreyer, one of the film’s main themes – religion – finds expression in the beautiful whites and blacks of the images, most of which are presented by means of static camera positions.
In the early 1960s in Poland, a young redhead nun named Anna, who grew up in a convent, is preparing to take her vows. But before she does that, her prioress asks her to visit her aunt, Wanda, whom she hasn’t seen for most of her life. Anna is reluctant to head out into the sinful world outside the nunnery, but she does as she is asked to do. In a moment of incredible candour, Wanda announces to Anna that she was born of Jewish parents (her real name is Ida Lebenstein) and sent to the convent because at the time of her birth Jews were being hunted down in Nazi-controlled Poland.
Wanda is a former state prosecutor who once got the nickname “Bloody Wanda” for her role in sending enemies of the socialist state to their deaths. It has been a long time sincethe Second World War, but although she doesn’t talk about it much, and we only glean tiny bits of information from her about her family’s life in hiding, it is an event that clearly took a toll on her, and along with Ida she tries to locate the remains of her sister and brother-in-law, among others.
The investigation is simple but leads to the introverted Ida coming face to face with the evils of the world. Her exposure to the life led by her more free-spirited aunt, who spends many a night with a different man in her bedroom, also attunes her to alternative ways of behaving (in other words, black and white turn slightly grey) that will significantly influence her way of thinking by the end of the film. This change is made visible in her arrival and departure from the city of Łódź, where Wanda lives, which is shown with a static shot of her arriving on the tram, and a lateral tracking shot that shows her leaving the city toward the end.
The world depicted is one of intense religious affiliation, and God’s blessings are mentioned in nearly every greeting between friends and strangers. However, always in the background, are the events of the Second World War, and the staggering injustices suffered by such a large part of the Polish population. The film moves at a leisurely pace, with scenes stripped down to their essential parts, even if those parts often mostly consist of silence.
We never feel that things are moving too slowly, but surprisingly the fragments of the final act seem disjointed, and the film moves too quickly from one scene to the next, often without explaining how characters got certain kinds of important information and how they respond to them.
The investigation in the present has as much to do with unveiling the past and getting at historical truths, painful as they might be, as it is about the veiled Ida’s quest (albeit one she is indifferent to at first) to find the truth within and about herself. She grew up a Catholic, always surrounded by the nuns of the convent, and it may not appear that her birth into a Jewish family is worth exploring, but she soon finds herself no longer able to ignore the circumstances under which she was torn from her family – an act that led to the point where she finds herself in the present.
The process is presented without any sentimentality or melodrama; on the contrary, things happen with very little fanfare, but there cannot be any doubt that Ida is affected by the discoveries she makes and the world she encounters, where she continues to believe in God despite all the misery of her earliest days on the planet. Whatever your view of religion, Ida is a character with integrity. She faces her struggles in silence but not with a mere shrug of the shoulders. And Pawlikowski’s gorgeous film is a very worthy modern-day addition to the canon of films dealing with religious subjects.
Viewed at the 2014 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival