Ida ★★★★★

TIFF 2013 – film#5

Reason for pick: Director Pawel Pawlikowski - My Summer of Love

My lovely wife has done it again. Unearthed another gem at TIFF.

Ida took me completely by surprise. I thought Summer of Love was charming, and was expecting another thoughtful, gentle tale. This was not to be. While Ida is also a study of two women, that’s where the similarities end. Before the presentation began, director Pawlikowski asked us not to read political comment into the story, but rather just try to experience the characters. 1962 was a divisive time for Christians and Jews in Poland. Ida is more about faith and choices, rather than politics and religion.

Shot in Academy Ratio, and black and white, the first thing that leaps out at you is the striking cinematography and composition. Characters are framed in corners, or in the lower third of the shot. This lends an almost ethereal feel. The wonderfully textured use of light and shadow evokes a feeling of the time. Ida looks like a work of art. Score is entirely absent; except for the infectious and seductive live music.

Anna was abandoned at birth, given up to the Nuns. The only life she’s ever known is the convent, and she is now approaching an age where she can take her vows and enter the Sisterhood. Shortly before the event is to take place, the Mother Superior informs her that she has a living relative, and urges her to see her before taking her vows. She shows up at her Aunt Wanda’s house, and isn’t exactly greeted with open arms. She receives a photograph of her mother, informed that her name is, in reality, Ida, told that her parents were murdered, and given the news that she’s Jewish, … then shown the door.

Wanda is an alcoholic communist party judge, and former ruthless state prosecutor. She knows how to enjoy life, and although she tries, she doesn’t, really. She’s tortured by her demons, and uses every means she can to escape them.

After some consideration, Wanda changes her mind, and catches Ida before catches her train back to the convent. This is the beginning of their journey together. Ida wishes to see her parents graves. Wanda has never made the journey to find them, lost so long ago, somewhere in the farms or forests of Poland, and you can feel that’s she’s not keen on opening those wounds.

What follows is a road trip movie like none other I’ve seen. A truly wonderful, touching, sad, but sometimes funny journey of discovery, faith, faith lost, and the road not taken. I’ve made it sound trite, and rather hallmark, but it truly isn’t. The simple story and the wondrous cinematography fit like hand in glove, and you truly feel you’re on the journey with them. Agata Kulesza as Ida, and Agata+Kulesza as Wanda give incredible, nuanced performances.

A true gem, and my favourite of the fest so far.

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