★★★★★ | Ida
It’s hard to decide exactly what period this new cinematic masterpiece from Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski is set in with its austere dramatic settings that look like they have remained unchanged for centuries. This unforgiving bleak countryside that seems to have escaped any attempt at modernization is in fact 1962 but you have this sinking feeling that this part of rural post-war Poland is probably still exactly the same today.
Ida is an 18-year-old Novice at a large decaying rather remote Convent and is just about to take her final Vows. The Convent has been her home since she had been abandoned as an orphaned baby, but now the Mother Superior tells her that she does, in fact, have one living relative, an Aunt who she should go visit before she makes her ultimate commitment to God.
She has two major shocks awaiting her at the end of her long bus journey when she finally meets her Aunt. Not only does she discover that she is Jewish by birth, but she also quickly realises that her Aunt, is a former high-ranking Communist Party Public Prosecutor who has transgressed into an alcoholic chain-smoking woman who seems to bed every man she meets. The sheltered young nun-to-be, however, seems to take it all in her stride and announces that she wants to go back to her home village just once and visit her parents grave.
An initially reluctant Aunt agrees to drive her there, as she needs to prepare Ida for the harsh reality of the situation. The parents had been slaughtered in the Pogrom in the War and even now the local anti-Semitic Communist population are in denial of their complicity as in many cases they then stole the lands left by the murdered Jews. This was the case of her own parents and it took the fearless tenacity of the Aunt to uncover the actual facts.
Along with their road-trip, they give a lift to a handsome young saxophonist who is en route to play at a Ball in the next town. Ida doesn’t realise at the time that he will turn out to be one of the reasons that she questions her vocation and her ‘calling’ to serve God.
The tense melodramatic story is as uncompromisingly bleak as the landscape it is set in, and it’s twisting plot lines as both women’s lives unfold in front of our eyes makes for compelling viewing. The reason for their sadness is understandable and the outcome is, therefore, inevitable as neither of them can really carry on as before with the knowledge that they have unleashed.
It is unquestionable one of the most powerfully moving films of the year to date. Completely stunning on so many levels but even so, it is the superb black & white cinematography that so carefully framed each single shot that took this movie to a whole another level. Faultless award-worthy acting by two sublime actors Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza who had great chemistry as the two completely different woman who really had so much in common.
P.S. The rather surprising detail about this movie that will undoubtedly go down in the annals of Polish cinema as a national masterpiece, is that it’s director and co-writer Pawel Pawlikowskin was born there but has actually lived and worked in the UK and France most of his life. Interesting then seeing the country, as he must remember it from his own childhood.