As the opening credits of Ida began I realised I had almost unrealistically high expectations for this film. I had seen posters littered with hyperbolic praise and adorned with awards from across Europe and watched the breathtaking trailer several times. I suddenly worried whether it was possible for the film to sustain so many preconceived hopes. However, it soon became apparent that Paweł Pawlikowski has focused on the small details of Ida’s story allowing the larger subjects of the film to remain undamaged by a heavy hand. This lightness of narrative makes Ida both a completely absorbing and painful film to watch.
The eponymous Ida, Agata Trzebuchowska, is an orphan novice nun who is about to take her vows in rural Poland during the Soviet rule of the 1960s. Although she has already agreed to spend her life in the stark nunnery her Mother Superior insists she must meet her remaining family, an aunt, before she makes an irreversable commitment. Ida reluctantly makes her way to the city where she discovers from this aunt, Wanda Gruz played by Agata Kulesza, that she is Jewish. Her complete faith in a Christian god is then faced with an identity crisis as she realises she knows nothing about this new culture and family which have laid a claim on her. Pawlikowski also demonstrates throughout the film that it is not only traditional Jewish culture that continues their separation but the overwhelming and inescapable grief the recent generations have faced following the loss of so many communities in the Holocaust. Ida is drawn into this shared emotion as she travels with Wanda to discover her parents’ fate and understand why she was left at the nunnery for so many years.
Although this quest to reveal Ida’s past might sound unremittingly bleak the film does also raise questions about how lives should be lived. As Ida begins to experience the full possibilities that the world has to offer, ranging from beautiful clothes to the social interaction offered by a bustling city and the suggestion of a male friend, it seems as if she has closed herself off from the world before even understanding it. The audience sees this strange new world through her eyes, as even a traffic jam appears exotic in comparison to the barren, snowy lands surrounding her previous home.
Ida was a film that I think will stay with me and in my thoughts for a long time. While many people wished they could forget the terrible things which war brought with it to Poland it is clear that this would always remain impossible without an acknowledgement of the wounds that lay across the surface of society.
Unfortunately Ida appears to have finished its run in cinemas but I think it is worth buying the DVD of this film as the clear and simple visuals will not bore with rewatching.