Ida Review

Posted: December 4, 2014 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

ida_ver2Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Earlier in the summer, amidst the release of large blockbusters, a little foreign film called Ida snuck into theaters and quietly received great reviews before subtly exiting. The film wasn’t exactly a sensation, but pretty much everyone who saw it agreed it was a great film and a nice alternative to the Hollywood releases. All of these months later and Ida is still one of the most well-reviewed films of the year and Poland’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar and has been lauded by several film festivals worldwide. Given the film’s extremely warm reception, this felt like a must-see.

Set in 1960s Poland, the film follows Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), a young nun in-training who has grown up at the convent since being orphaned as a child. On the verge of taking her vows, Anna is informed that she has a living relative, an aunt named Wanda (Agata Kulesza). Anna is told she should go speak to her aunt and learn a little bit about her background before giving herself to the church. Anna agrees and seeks out Wanda, who quickly informs her that she is Jewish, her real name is Ida, and her family was killed in the Holocaust. Anna wishes to learn more about her family, so the two set out to find where they’re buried.

Though the actual plot of Ida is very simplistic and straight-forward, there are a lot of complicated emotions bubbling beneath the surface. At its core, the film is an analysis of the holocaust and the far reaching effects it has on the victims. This is most clear in the character of Wanda. It seems she was once a prominent and respectable person in society, but she now struggles with alcoholism and is consumed by what has happened to her and her family. She puts on a face of confidence and strength, but Agata Kulesza’s nuanced performance reveals pain and depth. Anna, or Ida, is interesting as well as we see how the holocaust affects her even though she went through most of her life not realizing she too was a victim of the genocide. Not only that, but the revelation comes at a crucial point in her life where she needs to choose the person she wishes to become, and such a revelation further shakes the foundations of her belief. Though I admired this from an intellectual stand point, I wasn’t actually very invested in Ida’s story. Her character is so cold and quiet that it’s hard to tell what she actually thinks about everything, with most details having to be inferred. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I would have liked to be able to more thoroughly relate to her character. I actually found Wanda to be the more complex and layered character.

The issue of development can be partially attributed to the film’s brisk 80 minute runtime. I wouldn’t say the film feels rushed, but it does seem more focused on simply presenting all of the details of the story than it does actually exploring them. Had the film taken it’s time and delved more into the characters, it would have felt a more substantial story, especially since this is a story that deals with some heavy themes. Jewish identity, the aftermath of tragedy, survivor guilt, and how people cope with the past are some really important concepts and worthy of a lot of time. That doesn’t mean every movie that looks at these themes needs to be three hours, but they do need some time to leave the impact they deserve. As is, Ida seems to be cut off just as it’s starting to really build.

If there’s one element of Ida which is completely deserving of praise it’s the visual style, which is extremely well-realized by director Paweł Pawlikowski and cinematographers Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski. The film is shot in black and white and Academy ratio, a choice mostly made to give the film an older feel. It works too. If I didn’t know better I’d believe this to be a European effort from the 1960s or so. Beyond that, the limited framing is used by Pawlikowski to come up with some very striking compositions with characters off center. Overall, the film has a really poetic look and is just beautiful to look at.

Ultimately, I found Ida to be a pretty flawed effort. Though it tackles some inherently rich themes, its cold approach and short runtime severely limit the impact of the film. Still, there’s plenty to like here. Much as I wish I could have had a more powerful examination of the issues approached, they are still interesting themes and I enjoyed exploring them. The film also features a great performance from Agata Kulesza and some of the best cinematography I’ve seen all year. It’s a busy time of the year for cinephiles as there are a ton of Oscar contenders to see, as well as some high profile blockbusters. But if you have room for another film with genuine artistry that aims for adults, you can’t go wrong with Ida.


  1. How funny, I reviewed this the same day!

    Sent from my iPhone


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