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Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a catholic nun working towards taking her vows within the covenant where she stays. She is soon going to take those vows but is told that first she is supposed to go visit a family member and speak with them. Unfortunately for Ida, this is something that comes as a huge surprise: she must go and visit a family member that Ida previously hadn't even realize existed.
The person she meets following this bit of news is Wanda (Agata Kulesza), whom she quickly discovers is her aunt. Before long, Ida learns that her real name is Siostra Anna and that her family heritages makes her Jewish. She begins to spend time with Wanda and forms a new connection. Ida decides to visit her parents grave site and the two traverse the road there in company.
Along the journey, Ida learns more about Wanda and that Wanda had been a prosecutor during Stalin's regime, which ultimately led to the death of many innocent people. The past haunts Wanda and with getting to know Ida, things begin to complicate for Ida too: she begins to wonder about her own identity and to question her soon-to-be vows as a nun. Who is she, actually? Ida wonders what matter most to her and must come to understand by the film's conclusion.
The story for Ida is more focused on the newly familial interactions between Ida and Wanda than on a plot or linear storyline approach. The idea was to be more poetic and interpretative than to be concrete. Director Pawlikowski and co-screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz make the most of exploring the film with this approach. Ida is stark -- both visually and in dialogue (which is so sparse from beginning to end). The approach is meant to be explorative of the characters in a visual way rather than through written analysis.
The emphasis on the filmmaking is constantly to be understated and each scene seems to be following this approach. Most of the film is made through those little moments: the quietly ponderous expressions of Ida as they go on their road-trip to the gravesite, the quiet way in which the characters walk along the road, and the icy expressions and contemplations felt throughout the film during intimate moments of character-study within the filmmaking. Everything unfolds slowly but it's all done in a way that seems to perfectly represent the filmmaking style of Pawlikowski and the sort of quietly solemn approach intended for this creative effort.
The film is well directed. Even with little to say or do, both Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza give strong performances that are at the forefront of the film's successes. The quiet graces both bring to their characters make the film more compelling. Both seem to explore everything they can about Ida and Wanda. The close connection between the characters that forms under such a short time is made more believable and fascinating because of how the performances bring to life the family connection. Wanda seems to see Ida as a completely innocent and lucky individual, whereas Ida starts to form a sort of affection for Wanda's personality and spirit. Yet both seem to lack full understanding of each other as well as themselves in a way that is made more convincing by the subtle nuances of the actors.
Pawlikowski wants to explore a number of themes but not to offer any concrete ideas with regards to what is explored. It is in this regard that the more poetic attributes succeed most, overlapping over the story. The themes of the film run anywhere from the idea of personal identity, the importance of faith, the role of religion in life, the poverty of the world which surrounds Ida and Wanda, and the roles of their beliefs. Even more thematic ideas could be inferred from the film as it is highly open to being interpreted. Pawlikowski doesn't want one possible outcome or solution to exist within his visual poetry, he means to get the audience into thinking about the way the story unfolds and how these character journeys exist more-so than he seems to want the audience to find some sense of definite closure.
Overall, Ida is a quietly fascinating film at times but it is also one that can become irritating for attempting to explore so many elements in one short eighty-minute run-time. Given what is an extensive list of attributes the film wishes to explore, it feels as though the film can sometimes breeze through these aspects without as much emphasis on each given attribute. This seems to result naturally in this filmmaking approach because of the poetic structure but it is something that makes a viewing of Ida less enjoyable but more fascinating when one stops themselves to reflect on the approach to the film as delivered by Pawlikowski.
Even with the solemnly lyrical visual style, Ida sometimes felt like it could have used a better screenplay. Even so, Pawlikowski seems to have achieved exactly what was intended and with incredibly gorgeous cinematography from Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczweski bringing lush black and white photography to the mix, there's certainly still plenty to appreciate in this visually luminous and thoughtful film that is sure to be an effort appreciated by those who enjoy art house films and the possibilities that the genre is capable of offering.
Ida arrives on Blu-ray with an impressive black and white 1.37:1 full-frame high definition presentation. The more traditional aspect ratio provides the film a claustrophobic styling in scenes that adds to the bleak poetic intent of the filmmaker. This Polish drama has such an interesting visual style: it is one of the film's main attributes. Contrast, clarity, and depth is generally quite solid and worthwhile with this 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoding.
The Polish 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation is clean and clear for the dialogue of the story. The lossless sound mix is one that provides good detail for the design. However, with large portions of the film playing out like a silent film, Ida manages to feel like an incredibly quiet effort that is more about the poetic expression of the performances and scenery than the audio. This presentation doesn't sound like one that was designed for surround sound and it is largely akin to a opened up stereo mix. However, the dialogue clarity is crisp and that's the most important attribute.
Included inside the case is a booklet featuring two essays with different ideas and interpretations on the film and it's themes.
On disc supplements include:
Q&A with Director Pawel Pawlikowski (21 min.) was conducted at the BFI London Film Festival. In this piece the director answers questions and speaks freely about his creative filmmaking process (which he describes as chaotic and more poetic than planned out), a description is given on some of the events in making Ida, and the inspiration for the film.
On the Set of Ida (11 min.) is a behind the scenes featurette about the making of the film.
Pawel Pawlikowski Interview (7 min.) is another interview conducted with the director.
Theatrical Trailer (2 min.) is the main trailer promoting the film's release.
Ida is a film that is less about narrative and more about creating an emotional, poetic visual journey. Filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski wanted the film to flow like a poem and not to be similar to other narrative features coming out of Poland. He wanted to make a film that is looking at a number of issues like religion, faith, and war. Pawlikowski has achieved his intended goals as a filmmaker.
While some may not appreciate the huge number of ideas explored in such a short run-time and with no definitive conclusions explored by the filmmaker, it's unmistakable that Ida is still the work of a genuinely talented filmmaker who has brought forth interesting things with the cast. Filmed with great black and white photography, Ida also impresses on Blu-ray. This release is worth a look for fans of independent and art house cinema.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.