We are all on a journey of discovery from birth to death, and most of us have the help of friends and family to fill in the blanks. But what if you had to connection to your past, and were ready to enter adulthood with no clue as to who or where you came from.
No, this isn’t an esoteric science-fiction film. It’s a film called Ida, set in 1960s Poland. Young Anna has been raised in a convent as an orphan since birth and is only a few days away from taking her vows. The Mother Superior summons Anna. She is informed that her aunt, her only living relative, has finally been contacted, and that Anna must go visit her before consummating her vows. Anna is reluctant, but this wide-eyed innocent does as she’s told. She finds herself confronted by Aunt Wanda, who is a complete 180 from what Anna knows of life. Aunt Wanda is a chain-smoking hard drinker who’s not particular what man she brings home. Oh, and by the way Anna, your real name is Ida and you’re not Catholic. You’re Jewish.
Thus begins the journey of discovery that starts as an acquaintance that develops into a relationship that reveals the complicated layers of the lives of both of these remarkable women. As they go forth in search of answers, almost every scene reveals something unexpected, but intriguing enough to make you anticipate the next surprise around the corner. In many ways it plays like a film noir, as well as French new-wave film from the sixties. The performances of both actresses are Oscar worthy, but even if I could pronounce their names, you would have no clue who they are.
Shot in the standard 1:37 ratio that was still being used in Europe during the early sixties, Ida is filmed in jaw-dropping, eye-grabbing black and white that resembles a series of great photographs strung together. The lighting and composition make this a breathtaking visual treat. Sometimes the frames are shot from odd angles that cut off heads, or parts of the scene, but that make sense. And in addition to having complete control of his project, director Pawel Pawlikowski does not always stick to the standard filmmaking rules. Most notably, in some of these off kilter frames, the English subtitles are not forced along the bottom edge of the film. You may find them perched across the top, or on the side, or even an overlay against a physical backdrop. And he answers a lot of questions about these two women, while leaving enough to your imagination to think about them and draw your own conclusions. There’s also a nice blend of original music, plus some Mozart, Bach and Coltrane that are appropriate to the action.
In an era where people are fond of saying “less is more” Ida is the personification of that phrase. As a film, it’s sparse, deliberately paced but never boring, where even the slightest glance or passing image can mean even more than what is on the surface. As contemporary commercial films try to pound more and more into each frame, you will be quite taken by this quiet, black-and-white, 80-minute Polish film, which, for me, was an electric cinematic experience.
The PG-13 rated Ida is scheduled to open on May 30th at the Mariemont Theatre. Watch for it. Check your listings. Don’t miss it. Ida is a true jewel of a movie.