Pawel Palikowski’s newest film has just been crowned winner of the London Film Festival, Warsaw Film Festival and won the critics award in Toronto. So what is so captivating about this film? The synopsis sounds pretty dreary “a young orphaned Polish nun goes on a journey with her aunt” isn’t exactly the kind of thing that gives the average reader thrills of excitement.
What Ida has, however is the simple lure of beautiful things. Shot in black and white in the largely obsolete 4×3 aspect ratio every shot is composed with this in mind. Unlike many other black and white films which hover in a washed out grey for two hours, Ida is short, snappy and fully in command of pure white and deep black. Every shot is composed with pinpoint precision to have just the right patterning of light and shade. The aspect ratio makes the film easier to take in, rather than your eyes darting from side to side of a widescreen. Ida’s visuals would be challenging in a widescreen format due to the amount of empty space and obscurity in the cinematography. This empty space is entirely necessary, and a key part of the story of Ida. The cinematography is every bit as bleak and lonely as Ida’s mental state, even going so far as reducing this empty space as Ida becomes more comfortable in her surroundings.
Agata Trzebuchowska’s performance as the almost entirely mute eponymous Ida is sensitive and accomplished. Her mastery of body language and expression means that the emotional journey is completely understood by the audience. While there are complex issues about morality and religion wrapped up in the plot, Trzebuchowska’s performance, combined with Pawlikowski’s sensitive lighting and framing, reduces this into the essentials human experience of confusion and the search for an identity. While the viewer may not agree with Ida’s decisions her motivations are perfectly understood despite her overwhelming silence. Agata Kulesa provides the foil to Ida’s composed, pious silence in her forthright pugnacity and borderline alcoholism. Kulesa’s performance is without a doubt fantastic in itself, but ultimately forgettable compared to the other merits of the film.
It takes a huge amount of directorial clout to pull off a film in an unfamiliar format, in black and white, with very little dialogue and only two characters. For Pawel Pawlikowski these elements add up into a left field gem that will stay with you for long after the screening finishes.
- Entertainment: 4/5
- Artistic: 5/5
- Intellectual: 5/5