At hardly an hour and 20 minutes, you would think Ida has very little to offer, but that just is not the truth whatsoever. Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski blessed us with a nuanced film full of power and strangely pleasing visuals. It’s stark, yet crisp, black and white cinematography did not have to be that way, but it looks absolutely beautiful.
In the opening sequence, we see a young nun carving a statue and then carrying it to the grounds outside. We realize it depicts Christ and it feels rather reminiscent of La Dolce Vita and yet this film has a note of reverence.
We have been transposed to Poland during the 1960s where novice nun Ida lives a simple and disciplined lifestyle within a convent. The meager plot follows her pilgrimage to meet her only relative before taking her vows. It’s the aunt who refused to take her in after Ida’s parents passed. They have never met before now.
There doesn’t seem to be much to say. In fact, what can you say? Ida has taken up a religious calling and her aunt, a former judge named Wanda Gruz, lives life the way she pleases. Men, alcohol, and smoking are all a part of that lifestyle.
Thus, they have little in common until the moment when Gruz discloses the truth to Ida. Her real name is Ida Lebenstein. She is Jewish. Her parents were killed during the War, but the details are not too clear. They can probably guess how it happened.
Ida’s whole identity is rocked because she is now a Jew within a convent which seems like a gross incongruity. Ida’s resolve is to find her parents’ resting place and so the unlikely pair set off looking for answers.
That’s about all the film’s plot right there, and though it does not sound like much, it is far more engrossing than a lot of the other fair we come across. There are moments when it feels like we are watching something from Robert Bresson. It’s simple. There are not frills but it is chock full of humanity and seemingly real characters with real emotions.
Ida is very rarely in the center of the frame, more often than not her eyes are averted, looking away from the camera. Pawlikowski also has a curious habit of focusing on one character during a scene of dialogue. It seems to denote how isolated and confused many of these characters are. It’s one of those films that leaves us with more questions than answers and that lends itself to a truly insightful viewing experience.
“This Jesus of yours adored people like me” ~ Wanda Gruz