Thursday, January 08, 2015

Movie Review: Ida (2013)

The fifth film from acclaimed Director Pawel Pawlikowski, Ida is an extraordinary artistic achievement with splendid acting, beautiful cinematography and an empathetic script that forgoes the maudlin and happy endings Hollywood so often relies on. The film follows a novitiate nun in 60s Poland who is sent out into the world to discover the truth about a family that left her in the monastery from a very young age before taking her vows. What she finds in that world is an alcoholic and promiscuous aunt who informs her that she is Jewish and that the rest of her family were killed during the Nazi control of the country. What follows is a slow moving but riveting narrative that takes them to nightclubs, hotels and the countryside to confirm what happened to her family and find their remains.

The film is in many ways a return to his roots for Pawlikowski, combining a minimalistic mis-en-scene with some of the best framing and shot selection one is likely to see in cinema these days. There is little dialogue throughout and no effort to make that dialogue profound, with the relatively short film (clocking in at just over 80 minutes) relying on the actors and their surroundings to transmit the more complex emotional and philosophical themes of the film. And it accomplishes this with a gentle flair and great nuance in the subtext, starting with the important choice to film in black and white, which perfectly capturing the somber mood of the narrative and lead characters, the epoch and the film’s intent. A second way is through the shots themselves, and the fascinating choices Pawlikowski makes, like placing the two women discernibly low in some shots or shooting from odd angles like up a staircase. A third way is in the nuance of the ways the characters interact with those around them and the relatively low tremble of anti-Semitism they find wherever they go.

The acting of the two leads is truly extraordinary with Agata Trzebuchowska making her debut as the young nun-to-be Wanda and the truly excellent Agata Kulesza as the aunt, Wanda Gruz, an important judge during the early Communist years who has been worn down by time and life. The incredible thing is that the lead is not even an actress, having been spotted by the producer at a café and hired almost on the spot. Some may find the ending upsetting, but I think it fits well with the narrative structure and no matter what you think of the denouement, it is worth watching for its mastery of the art of filmmaking and showing us what Hollywood so rarely accomplishes with substantially more money and talent. Grade: A-

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