Initially this post Shoah/Holocaust film seems set to be a bleak and solitary affair, and it is, fittingly so. But there are also beautiful depths to be experienced here, ones that are both sensual and haunting. For Ida is a film of contradictory and competing forces; it’s discussions range over a broad sweep of troublesome issues such as identity, Jewishness, religion, faith, truth, justice and forgiveness. These are all played out here, intertwining with one another over the complex backdrop of 1960’s Poland, and yet every facet of the film is allowed to breathe and be absorbed despite the very short running time.
Ida follows a young woman who, just before taking her vows as a nun, is encouraged to meet the only known member of her family. Upon meeting her aunt the woman discovers that her name is Ida and that she is Jewish. This revelation sets the two of them on a journey to find out how and where Ida’s parents were killed, a journey which takes them deep into painful and recent history. If you’ve seen 2012’s Pokłosie (Aftermath) then you’ll already be familiar with some of the surfacing issues within Poland regarding the fate of a percentage of the Jewish population and the subsequent possession of Jewish land. I won’t say any more for fear of spoilers but Pokłosie makes for a good complimentary film for Ida as it goes into further depth regarding the scale of events and the attitudes within the country, whereas Ida is a quieter film that’s looking at the changing identity of both its central character and by extension Poland in postwar 1960.
There’s a lot that stands out in this film but the two lead performances by Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza are true highlights. Trzebuchowska plays Ida and is a complete newcomer with only this film credited to her name. Not that her lack of previous film work should make much difference but after having seen the complex and very nicely nuanced performance she gives here, it is a little bewildering to think that we haven’t seen her before now. She’s most certainly one to watch. Kulesza, who plays her aunt, is fantastic at giving us a character who unravels slowly before our eyes. When we meet her she seems simply like a plot device but we believe in her because there’s something in her eyes that reveals more. That belief is rewarded as Kulesza over the course of the film reveals many different layers of character, always believably and always compellingly. She’s a really great character.
There’s a tendency amongst critics to slap the labels of classic and masterpiece on films which in retrospect don’t quite deserve them. This is the kind of film which very easily gets labelled as such and yet I don’t believe it warrants that level of false praise. To throw the term ‘classic’ at this would be to undermine its relevant and pressing issues which should be thought about and considered in future pieces of art to come. There is much room for expansion on some of the recent history which Ida brings up, some of which is covered already in films like Pokłosie, some of which is as of yet not fully explored. There’s a lot in Ida to like. There’s a fair amount to love; such as its compact nature which leaves no moment sacrificed or character trait unexamined. And I can imagine it putting up a strong fight for an Academy Award. But lets not undermine it by describing it as a classic just yet shall we?
What is the film’s greatest strength? A really hard call… I’ll go with it’s script and structure but frankly a whole host of other elements could be here instead.
Its greatest weakness? I don’t think it would have hurt to have made the search and resistance they met just a little more complex.
Would I see it again? Absoloutley.
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