IDA (2014) Agata Trzebuchowska, Agata Kulesza, Dawid Ogrodnik Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
Raised in a convent since she was a baby, Anna is a young nun about to take her vows when the mother superior informs her that she has family that is still alive. An aunt named Wanda reached out and wrote a letter to the order, she lives in Warsaw and Anna is instructed to go visit her aunt and learn about her family before she's allowed to take her vows.
Once she meets her Aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), Anna discovers some shocking revelations about her family. It turns out that Anna was born Ida Lebenstein, she's Jewish, and her parents were persecuted and killed during the war. Aunt Wanda believes she knows where they are buried and suggests they take a road trip the next day to visit the Polish farm where her parents hid from the Nazis.
Ida/Anna has spent her entire existence in a convent and has never experienced the world outside of her religious life so Aunt Wanda takes her out for a night on the town, as she puts it, "how can you make a real sacrifice for God if you don't know what you're sacrificing? Ida soon discovers that her aunt loves to drink, smoke, and "socialize" with strange men as the two descend upon the local jazz club where Ida, who clearly disapproves of her aunt's lifestyle, is like a sponge absorbing water for the first time or a canvas that receives it's first splash of color as she takes in her surroundings.
From the smooth intoxicating notes played by the young and good looking jazz band, to the free flowing alcohol and free spirited clientele, temptation is all around Ida and it was at this time that I realized the scene could symbolize a scenario that Ida is already familiar with in her religious upbringing. "Before Jesus ascended into Heaven he Descended into Hell," could this be Aunt Wanda's personal hell? It turns out that her aunt is a former judge nicknamed Red Wanda for her hard-line stance against those who opposed Poland's Stalinist regime, her days and nights are now filled with alcohol fueled depression and one night stands.
The dynamic of these two women and their contrasting lives is stimulating to watch and some of the best scenes in the film are when they are on the road together driving around the polish countryside in a small German Wartburg trying to uncover what happened to Ida's parents/ Wanda's sister. It's a dark journey that turns out to be a life lesson for both women.
The new film from Polish-born director Pawel Pawlikowski is a beautiful and remarkable piece of cinema which features a superb performance by newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska in the title role. The story takes place in 1960's Communist Poland, and Pawlikowski chose to shoot the movie in black and white and fullscreen (1.33:1) giving the film a classic and nostalgic tone. . Color would do this film no justice as each black and white frame is already filled with aesthetic images that are striking at times. Ida is refreshing film that features two great female performances.
*Now showing in Austin at the Regal Arbor 8 @ Great Hills and the Violet Crown Cinema and in Houston at the Sundance Cinema.
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