Keswick Film Club - Reviews - Ida

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Reviews - Ida


Reviewed By John Porter

The Poland of Pawel Pawlikowski's 'Ida' is a bleak, formal one of discovery, rotten secrets and of the struggle to reconcile past with present. The story opens in a remote, snow-swept convent where young novice Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is told that before taking her vows she must seek out her sole relative in a distant city. This relative is an Aunt, Wanda (Agata Kulesza), who after occupying a formidable position in the Communist judicial system now kills both her memories and current apathy with a snarling mix of cynicism, liquor, and loveless sex.

'Ida' is a small movie, but one brimming with ghosts and the weight of a peace just out of reach. Shot in black and white and a 1.37:1 aspect ratio, Pawlikowski positions his actors low in the frame, often with only their heads visible on the bottom edge. Coupled with the square screen and the repeated vertical lines in the decor that lengthen the compositions, this towers the world tall over the characters with a silent, grey watchfulness. There is much to pile onto these figures. Wanda reveals with scorn that Anna's real name is Ida, and that Ida is, "a Jewish nun".

Setting off across the country in Wanda's clattering car, the pair seek out an answer as to the fate of Ida's parents. Through small towns where the tenement buildings echo and peel white paint into the dark, to the impoverished farm where their family lived during the war, the narrative unfolds unhurriedly on two levels. Firstly the solving of a mystery, and secondly the reactions of Wanda and Ida to it's inevitable conclusion. Developing the characters alongside the development of the conspiracy in this way ensures that the inevitability never becomes a burden - it never seems pointless in its exploration. Even though the fate of the Jewish family can be guessed, its repercussions cannot.

Ryszard Lenczewski's cinematography is crisp and precise, drawing out a bitterness both in the physical chill of the land, and also in the stark desolation of the people living and hiding upon it. Around the two leads, peripheral figures flit in and out of grace. From suspicious, threatening villagers, to a young saxophonist who provides the possibility of an alternate future to Ida's life of chastity, these are characters who are built with enough depth for them to affect how we see Ida and Wanda, but no further. Even with its heavy themes of history, religion, guilt, and repression, Pawlikowski achieves an intent and succinct examination of the two human beings at its core.

Ida and Wanda are contrasted continually, both in the script and visually. One particularly telling shot has Ida kneeling bolt upright, praying and motionless in front of a bed at the centre of the frame. After the stillness is established, Wanda flops down across the mattress in a horizontal sprawl of groans. Later, 'Red Wanda' describes herself as a "sinner", and a "whore", before attempting to read Ida's Bible. "Your Jesus loved people like me", she mocks as Ida snatches the book back. This is a movie that blossoms with its tiny punctuations of emotional bursting.

Contradiction and hypocrisy are rampant in the country through which the pair search. The woman who now lives in the house of Ida's parents asks for the novice's blessing, and stained glass windows shed light on manure in the cow byre. Making logical sense of the confusions that are encountered in the narrative is not attempted, either by the characters or the filmmakers, we are merely led to observe the attempts of Ida and Wanda to come to terms with the past without leaving it behind.

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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