Nate von Zumwalt
Something about Ida’s protracted journey just feels “right.” Pawel Pawlikowski’s chilling Polish drama premiered all the way back in 2013 at the Toronto International Film Festival and was honored by the Polish Film Academy that same year as the country’s Best Film. Months later, Ida screened out-of-competition at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival in the Spotlight category, home to a small batch of Sundance programmers’ favorite films that they cull from the festival circuit and elsewhere around the globe. That the film’s drawn-out life could culminate with an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, well, that just speaks to its staying power.
Ida is a film that is so patiently paced, its timbre so effortlessly realized, that its resonance does not cease upon the rolling of the credits. In fact, it may very well grow. The narrative follows a young nun in 1960s Poland named Anna, a cagey girl with a striking countenance and a stoic presence, played by a haunting Agata Trzebuchowska. As she is set to take her vows, Anna is informed that she must travel to visit her aunt Wanda, her only surviving relative following World War II, who reveals the family’s Jewish ancestry. Wanda, a welcome counterpoint to the prevailing austerity, is keen to facilitate Ana’s participation in more mischievous behavior before officially joining the convent. But Ana, true to her virtues, is more interested in uncovering not just the story behind her parents’ deaths, but the bodies themselves. A consenting Wanda leads Ana back to her family’s old home, kicking off a chain of events that eventually reveal the stark and disturbing truth behind her family history.
Led by its black-and-white picture and 1.33 aspect ratio, director Pawel Pawlikowski operates in an ascetic world in terms of both content and style. The film also happens to be Pawlikowski’s first Polish film—he was raised in Poland until moving to England at age 14. His film Last Resort screened in the World Cinema section at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, and his well-received drama My Summer of Love received a number of awards honors in 2004.
Ida is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Cinematography at this year’s Academy Awards.