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It is unfortunately rare to see a film that takes place in the 1960s that actually looks like it was made in the 1960s. From the stunning black and white photography to the constant static shots, this is a visual masterpiece that elicits a sense of nostalgia for classical filmmaking.
Ida tells the story of a young nun, Anna, who is getting ready to take her vows. However, before she does son, Anna goes to see her only living relative, her aunt Wanda. Anna is surprised to learn from Wanda that her parents were Jewish and killed during the Nazi occupation and that her real name is Ida Lebenstern. From there the two women go on a journey through the country trying to discover their past so they could move forward with their lives.
Even though there is a strong mystery element in this film as Ida tries to learn who her parents were and who killed them, this is definitely not intended to be watched as a mystery movie. This is in every sense a character examination as these two women are forced to rethink how they fit into the world.
Pawel Pawlikowski directs this Polish film. The U.K.-based Pawilikowski returned to his native country to make his first Polish film. This film is as much of a journey for Pawlikowski as well, as he goes on a voyage of national rediscovery. This creates a much more personal experience for the audience as well.
Agata Trzebuchowska plays the young Anna with a feeling of loneliness and adolescence as she explores a world to which she is not accustomed. It is an impressive performance considering this is her first acting performance ever. However, it is Agata Kulesza’s portrayal of the more interesting Wanda that really shines. Life has worn her down. She has lost some of her looks and the weight of her job has taken quite a toll on her. Jealous of Ida’s age and beauty Wanda tries to live through Ida by encouraging her to explore her sexual thoughts.
Pawlikowski makes some very interesting choices with his use of music. The only use of non-diegetic music comes at the very end of the film. Other than that the only other music is played by a jazz band in a nightclub. This is a unique way to show the influence of western culture infiltrating Poland during this time.
However, after watching this film, the element that stands out the most is the visual component, especially the cinematography done by Lukasz Zal. The film has already won numerous awards for the way it was shot. Zal creates very natural and realistic images truly making it appear as though the movie really was filmed in the 1960s. Not only that but the way scenes are framed with lots of barren space on the ends of the borders of the screen compliment the narrative themes of loneliness and abandonment.