Ida, a Polish film released in the U.S. in 2014, is a quietly devastating portrait of identity, loss, and the figurative and literal unearthing of the truth in Poland following World War II. Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, it is shot in stark and beautiful black and white.
Set in 1962, a young novitiate, Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is days away from taking her vows to be a nun. Her mother superior basically orders her to visit her only living relative, Aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza). Anna was raised in an orphanage, and Wanda never responded to requests to take the child in.
When Anna visits, she finds Wanda in a state of dishabille, a man in the bedroom. When Wanda asks her if the nuns told her who shes is, what she did, I was wondering if she was a prostitute–but no, she was a judge. In short order, Wanda tells Anna that her real name is Ida, and that she is a Jew. Her parents were killed during the war, and Wanda does not where they are buried.
The look on Trzebuchowska’s face at the moment is wonderful acting. It’s impassive, but you can almost see the gears turning in her head, processing the information. Wanda and the newly named Ida embark on a journey into the past, finding out exactly what happened to her parents.
I won’t spoil anymore, but I will say that the third act of the film is the least effective, involving Ida testing the waters of the outside world. But up until then Ida hits very hard with a minimum effort–there are no big scenes, no scenery-chewing, no hysterics. At the moment the pair find the grave of their family they simply absorb the moment, as do we in the theater.
I’m not Polish, but I do know the anti-Semitism in Poland was intense during the war, and I would imagine things wouldn’t have entirely healed by 1962. So it may have an extra layer of resonance with Polish audiences. But for those of who aren’t, Ida still packs an emotional wallop.
My grade for Ida: A.