(directed by Paweł Pawlikowski)
****+ (out of 5)
> Vulnerable young Ida is a young girl without a past. It’s the dark time of oppressive Communist rule in Poland, and Ida has been abandoned by her only known living relative to be raised in a nunnery to young womanhood. She is a sweet, devout soul, faithful and unquestioning and considering her past, or lack of it, a blank slate. Knowing nothing else, she prepares to take her vows, but a wise Mother Superior intervenes, blocking this path until she can go out into the real world and discover exactly what sacrifices she will be making if she joins the order. Her one known relative, an aunt- her mother’s sister, has finally agreed to take her in for a while. And they could not be more dissimilar. Her aunt is a bitter, cynical woman, a high ranking federal judge prone to melancholy and alcohol-fueled promiscuity. Together, they set out to find the truth about Ida’s origins.
. IDA is a perfect film. I would not second-guess a frame of it. It is one of those rare movies that are so damn good that you are immediately seduced, watching- almost in disbelief, as one perfect scene is piled upon another with a breathtaking painterly artistry reminiscent of JOAN OF ARC, ALEXANDER NEVSKY, BLANCIEVES, and QUE VIVA MEXICO. Every single choice this (apparently brilliant) director Paweł Pawlikowski made, is so thoughtful and effective that it pays off in spades- from the choice of crisp, dazzling black and white to the foreshortened aspect ratio of the film stock that is closer to square than widescreen, putting every stunning image under a kind of psychological pressure weighing in from all sides.
. I’m a pretty good photographer myself. So people tell me. People are always commenting on my choice of framing- how it seems carefully composed to highlight the content and helps them see a familiar world from an unexamined perspective. In IDA, this photographer was consistently wowed by the choices I would never have dreamt of- choices that seemed to break the rules brilliantly, making each new image feel startling and fresh. There is much effective use of empty space in IDA, usually suspended above the actors, giving the sense of weighing down on them, or their relative insignificance in the metaworld.
. Agata Trzebuchowska was a revelation as innocent Ida. In one of the most mesmerizing screen performances I’ve ever seen by a young actress, Agata owned every frame she was in- which was most of them. Her face radiated a tender vulnerability that made you fear for her- for the heartbreak life might bring her- the danger she does not see ahead. But she’s willful and determined and now that she’s seen another way to live, and confronted the empty void of her own life, will Ida want to go back to the confinement and limitation of life in the convent? It’s often slow going- this film reveals itself at a measured pace befitting the subject. But if you have the necessary patience, you will hang on every unfolding moment, waiting to see.
> IDA is sheer greatness.
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