By Anna Power @KitNapz
Ida is a profoundly moving, visually mesmerizing coming of age tale, steeped in the shadowy secrecy of post-holocaust, Poland. At eighteen, Ida, a novitiate, is about to take her vows but before doing so, her mother superior asks her to spend some time with her only relative, long-lost, estranged aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza). Ida dutifully, albeit reluctantly, complies only to discover the truth of her own Jewish identity – her real name is Ida Lebenstein, setting her on a path to uncover her hidden family history; a journey that cuts deep into the shameful remnants of the Jewish genocide and the greed that underpinned it.
Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska), is ill-prepared for the world, the convent walls and the disciplined life of the nuns are all she has known, having been brought there as an orphaned infant. She is a still, silent, reflective young woman, luminously enigmatic, her enormous soulful eyes, reveal much more of her depth of spirituality then her elliptical speech ever could.
Embarking on a road trip with her aunt Wanda makes for an interesting pairing, as their two worlds couldn’t be more polarized. Wanda drinks, swears and beds men habitually, with a sadness that only the truly broken can convey. Her outbursts of rage and cloying neediness for male attention are testament to her ungrounded emotional vulnerability, despite her harsh vocal utterings to the contrary. She’s nobody’s fool though and as an ex-communist party bigwig, knows how to fight and get what she wants.
Both she and the pensive, steadfast, unworldly Ida need each other if they are to succeed in uncovering their family’s hidden past. Despite their seismic differences there is some tenderness and faint familial love between them, Wanda less-than-gently attempting to provoke her niece into experiencing something of life before committing to becoming a nun. When they pick up a cool saxophone player, hitching a ride to the next town, Wanda reminds her niece that true renunciation is born out of experience. Ida in turn, provides her aunt with the emotional strength to continue on towards the truth, however devastating.
Shot entirely in black and white Pawel Pawlikowski has made a film of breathtaking beauty with the kind of stark, still-life-like cinematography that is at times reminiscent of Bresson and Dreyer. Epic, not in length, but in its ability to give us, through this simple portrait of two women’s lives in 1960’s Poland, an historical perspective of WW2 and a vision of its causes and consequences for generations to come. Ida is an immense, important and masterful film, told with great subtlety, intelligence and spirituality. It is an instant classic, both unforgettable and unmissable.
Ida is released on Friday 26th September.