Movie review: 'Ida' finds quiet drama in family secrets
In the drama "Ida," director Pawel Pawlikowski returns to his native Poland for a starkly drawn, quietly moving story about faith, family and secrets of the past.
Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) was an orphan raised in a Polish convent since she was put there as a baby during World War II. When the movie starts, it's 1962, and she's a novitiate preparing to take her vows to become a nun. Before she does, the Mother Superior (Halina Skoczynska) insists that Anna visit her only known relative, her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza).
Anna visits Wanda in the city and finds a woman who is her polar opposite: jaded, alcoholic and, as a former prosecutor and now a magistrate, a long-standing Communist and atheist. Wanda tells Anna something shocking about her past: Her birth name is Ida; her parents were Jewish and were killed during the war.
Wanda drives Anna to the village where her parents lived, and Wanda starts knocking on doors and stirring up long-hidden resentments. They also befriend a young saxophonist (Dawid Ogrodnik) whose carefree attitude gives Anna something new to think about as she contemplates committing herself to Christ.
Pawlikowski, who has made English-language films such as "My Summer of Love" and "The Woman in the Fifth," goes very minimalist in his first movie shot in his home country. He shoots in black-and-white, which captures the austere conditions in Anna's abbey and the bleak cityscapes of Communist living. He moves the camera infrequently, finding starkly beautiful settings everything from a farmer's field to a spiral staircase for the action to unfold in long, unbroken takes.
The lead actresses bring power and pain to their roles. Kulesza captures the bitterness of Wanda's life as a cynical Communist apparatchik, while Trzebuchowska gives quiet grace and strength to Anna. Together, they give "Ida" a gentle yet intense urgency.
A nun-to-be learns a secret about her past in this quietly compelling Polish drama.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens Friday, June 6.
Rating • PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and smoking.
Running time • 82 minutes; in Polish, with subtitles.