Saturday, May 17, 2014

Review: Ida

Image courtesy of Music Box Films.
Pawel Pawlikowski's "Ida" is set in 1962 - and appropriately as the film looks and feels like some sort of long-lost European art film from that era. I mean that as a compliment.

At 80 minutes, the picture is brief, but packs a massive - though emotionally muted - punch. This is a movie that tells a horrific story, but many years after the fact, leaving its characters to piece together its tragic details.

Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a young Polish nun who is nearing the date when she will take her vows. Raised at an orphanage operated by her church, she has seen little of the world and had few life experiences. She learns that she has a distant aunt, Wanda (Agata Kulesza), who was a former state prosecutor during the show trials of the 1950s, and decides to seek her out.

Wanda is not one for affection and is a fan both of the drink and the one night stand. She grudgingly agrees to rehash the past with her niece and tells Anna that her name is, in fact, Ida and that her parents, both of whom died during World War II, were Jewish.

The two women set out on a mini odyssey to find a man whom Wanda claims can give them information on where Anna/Ida's parents lived, died and were buried. They come into contact with a Catholic family living in the countryside who have some secrets to hide. I wouldn't dare give away the revelations that slowly trickle out during the course of the story, but suffice it to say they make for a stunning story of identity discovery.

The film, which was shot in black in white, is visually gorgeous and the performances, although purposefully subtle, are strong. "Ida" is a small film that had not been preceded by much fanfare and played at only a few smaller film festivals. It is now being revered by most critics and rightfully so. It's the type of wonderful discovery that comes along once in a while and becomes a surprise hit via word of mouth. I doubt those who seek it out will be able to shake off this haunting little film.

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