Ida, the new polish film from director Pawel Pawlikowski (The Woman in the Fifth), is garnering quite a bit of acclaim. It’s topped a number of critics’ end-of-the-year lists, being dubbed a modern masterpiece, the clear favorite for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. And what points most of those critics make about the pros of the movie, I cannot fault. Ida is the only foreign language contender I’ve seen (but I did see Force Majeure and I am confident that it got snubbed), but I can already see why the Academy is loving it.
The story is quite simple and personal. Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a young Polish girl who has been raised by nuns. Before she takes her vows to become one herself, she must go see her aunt, Wanda Gruz (Agata Kulesza), who is her last living relative. Upon arriving at her apartment, she finds her aunt with a man in her bed and a cigarette in her mouth. The movie touches on these themes of different cultural practices, but not before its plot kicks in, which finds Anna discovering that her real name is Ida Lebenstein , and that she’s actually Jewish. From there Ida becomes a kind of mystery, romance, and road movie all wrapped into one.
Agata Trzebuchowska gives a brilliantly silent performance as Ida, not uttering much dialogue but still letting us know what she is saying. It’s a quiet performance, but sometimes those are the best. Agata Kulesza is equally good as Wanda, interacting with Ida with sympathy and understanding. As the film progresses and these two learn more about each other’s secrets and desires, the stars really shine, and even though they are mostly unknown right now, I do call them stars because they are both terrific.
When I watched Woody Allen’s recent film, Magic in the Moonlight, I realized that it had the look of a film made many years ago, save for the recognizable modern stars. Ida is like that, too, only more so. The black-and-white cinematography is beautiful, every shot offering something to inspire some form of awe. It feels as if it’s some kind of classic that is airing on TCM, and that’s definitely a compliment. I can see Łukasz Żal and Ryszard Lenczewski winning the Oscar for Best Cinematography.
All that said (and keep in mind, I don’t want to take anything away from the film), I don’t think it’s necessarily great. I did mention the fact that it has been well received and yes, I am giving it a good review, but I don’t think it’s one of the year’s best films. But don’t let that convince you not to see it. Ida is only 82 minutes, and it’s a worthwhile watch, one that has two terrific performances and some crisp, beautiful cinematography.
1 hr. 23 mins.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and smoking
Starring Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza
Written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz and Paweł Pawlikowski
Directed by Paweł Pawlikowski