(Original Polish language, English subtitles.)
It has taken me a long time to get around to watching this, but I’m glad I did. It was directed by Paweł Pawlikowski, so that was enough to get my interest. Added to that, it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2015 too, so you can tell it is acclaimed by the industry.
Ida is a novice Nun. A young woman raised in a convent after being left there as a baby, during WW2. She is soon to take her vows, which will leave her in the convent forever, and then she gets an unexpected visitor. Her aunt arrives, and brings with her some startling news. Ida’s family are Jewish, not Catholics, and she wants Ida to go with her to discover their fate. Her aunt Wanda is a former hard-line Communist, and one-time State Prosecutor. Now disillusioned, she drinks heavily, smokes to excess, and sleeps with any man she comes across. Ida accompanies her to the village where the family once lived, beginning a road trip through the depressing landscape of rural Poland, in 1962.
Once at the village, they find silence and suspicion, until eventually discovering the family that once sheltered Ida’s parents are now living in their house, and have taken over their land. Ida has some taste of life outside the convent as she stays at hotels, and sees her aunt partying hard, dancing and flirting. They encounter the young saxophonist of a touring band, and he reappears throughout the film.
An eventual showdown with a member of a Catholic family leads them to discover the fate of their relatives. But there is little joy in the realisation of what happened, and both women are left wondering what they are doing. With no plot spoilers, that’s about it.
The film is shot in flat black and white, and uses a square format, not widescreen. It is also quite obviously ‘photographed’, which endeared it to me no end. This not only helps set the mood, but also makes it feel as if was made in 1962, let alone set that year. Agata Trzebuchowska, as Ida, lends the film a serenity, as she glides peacefully through it in her Nun’s habit, contrasting completely with the modern life around her. Scenery, locations, costume, and sets are all very authentic too, and the sense of life in Soviet-controlled Poland is very real. But it is Agata Kulesza as aunt Wanda who dominates the film, and acts everyone off the screen.
This is a slow film, and a very ‘serious’ one too. There are no lighter moments, nothing intended to be humourous, or warm. It deals with some aspects of the Holocaust during the German occupation of Poland, and also makes uncomfortable suggestions about collaboration, and betrayal. With a running time of just 82 minutes, it is a little gem of a film, and one I would recommend unreservedly, to serious film fans.