Paweł Pawlikowski, best known to British audiences for his Yorkshire- set lesbian coming of age epic My Summer of Love and asylum seeker drama Last Resort, returns with Ida (correctly pronounced EE-DA). The drama is Pawlikowski’s first film to be both set and shot in his native Poland. Set in the 1960s, Ida tells the story of young nun (played by newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska) who has been raised in a convent since she was a baby. However, before she can take her vows and commit herself fully to the Catholic Church, she is sent to meet her hitherto absent Aunt Wanda (played superbly Agata Kulesza). Together the two embark on a road trip that will reveal Ida’s Jewish ancestry and her family’s savage and tragic demise in a dark moment in Poland’s recent past. Along the way the two women navigate what is initially a very prickly family reunion and Ida faces temptation in the form of Lis (Dawid Ogrodnik), a carefree saxophone player that the two women pick up as a hitch hiker.
The film itself is visually stunning. Captured in faded black and white and entirely shot in a square 4:3 ratio, with many extreme close ups that cut partof the actor’s face of the frame. The film appears almost as a painting or photograph. There is a sense of the antiquated to the visual style that effectively evokes a sense of a time gone by. However, the film is also a meditation on contemporary Poland and where the country is going, especially in regards to the Catholic Church. The tension between Ida’s genuine devotion to her Catholic faith, the reality of her Jewish past and her temptation with Lis and the new more progressive Poland he represents, is a moving personalisation of the broader conflicts currently raging in Poland’s cultural development. Ida, as a character, is reserved and standoffish, she never really seems to fully fit in any of the worlds she inhabits during the film. The result is a feeling of being both an insider and outsider all at once. It doesn’t seem a coincidence that this would be the case in Pawlikoski’s first film about his homeland, a country he left at age fourteen.
The performances overall are strong. Trzebuchowska is striking to look at and any stiffness that may come with this being her first onscreen performance seem in keeping with the character. Ogrodnik is believably handsome and charming enough to tempt any nun. But, the stand out performance is Agata Kulesza as Aunt Wanda. Her tortured and performance bringing real pathos as well as strong sprinkling of dark humour to the film. Ida won’t be for everyone, even with a very brief 82 minute running time, the pace is still fairly slow. Nor is the film interested in giving any real exposition. You have to read in between the lines to really grasp the characters backgrounds and motivations. However, Ida is a thought provoking film and would be a great place to start for anyone wanting to dip their toe into the wonderful Polish cinema scene.
Ida is showing intermittingly over the month of November at Liverpool Fact and all other independent picture houses around the North West. For showing times the FACT click here.