Film review of the Polish drama about a nun discovering her Jewish ancestry and the world outside her convent. The film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2015.
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski.
Cast & credits
Producer: Eric Abraham, Piotr Dzieciol, Ewa Puszczynska.
Writer: Pawel Pawlikowski.
Camera: Ryszard Lenczewski, Lukasz Zal.
Music: Kristian Eidnes Andersen.
Sets: Marcel Slawinski, Katarzyna Sobanska-Strzalkowska.
Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, Dawid Ogrodnik, Jerzy Trela, Adam Szyszkowski, Halina Skoczynska.
Set in 1960’s Poland, Anna (Trzebuchowska) is a young, orphaned novice nun about to take orders when her Mother Superior suddenly informs her that she has a long-lost relative, an aunt, who is not only alive but also Jewish. As Anna undertakes accepting a different religious heritage and also her Aunt’s excessive drinking, she begins to question her devotion to God.
I like to be challenged by a film every now and then, made to make my brain and sensibilities work for my admittance fee.
Cinema is usually such an instantaneous gratification affair – flash, bang and a bit of wallop to satisfy the greedy eye of the average cinema patron, it is rare for a film to make an audience try harder to get at the juicy intricacies of the story, character motivation, and the subtle nuances of life.
With this in mind, anyone would agree that Pawlikowski’s drama is a slow-burner and all the better for it. Like a Carl Theodor Dreyer picture, it seems as if people’s movements are pared back to the absolute minimum. They seem only to look at each other for long moments without actually doing anything, giving you chance to drink in the meaning and solemnity, of the ‘action’, a kind of cinematic, religious contemplation. Perfectly in-keeping for this story.
We experience a slight thrill as Anna discovers the so-called normal life outside of her convent walls, wearing make-up and smoking like her deceased aunt, but it is cautiously handled, she dips her toe in and ours as she, like the audience, is unsure whether this is the right road for her to take.
Wisely opting for the crisp and clear delineation of one side from the other that black and white photography offers a filmmaker, the film looks cold but strikingly beautiful. This sets us up for a series of contrasts: the quiet of the convent and the hustle and bustle of urban life; the neatness of Anna’s convent with her aunt’s messy apartment and alcoholism and the shots of people cut-off mid-way.
The unique filming style employed reveals more of the dead space above or to the side of the characters than the people speaking or whom we should be looking at. Aunt Wanda has a conversation with a man whom is not seen, the camera focusing on her and the door frame and wall. As Anna returns to the convent, the camera hovers hesitantly above her and the other nuns, chopping off the lower parts of their heads, rendering them voiceless. The director clearly and cleverly distances his characters from their surroundings, reflecting their emotional separateness.
Ida is as austere and striking a film as one could watch, writer-director Pawlikowski’s drama snapped up the Best Foreign Language statuette at the 2015 Oscar’s and left an indelible mark on this reviewer.
One can hardly complain that the slow approach is dragged out for an epic film. At 80 minutes, Ida is brief a feature film, as trim, neat and bare as a convent’s interior decor.