“Ida” a Compelling Post WWII Drama (Foreign Film Review)



The taut drama Ida takes a turn at the box-office with a black and white stunner that spins back the clock to 1960’s Poland.  A work of art for the screen this indie has powerful performances and creative direction that blows you away. Not an ordinary film involving Jewish war casualties, this one does a convincing job of putting transgressions into perspective.

The story opens with Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) living in at a Catholic Nunnery in Poland where she has been placed from an orphanage at an early age. Now 18 the young woman will be taking her vows of devotion to Christ.  One day she gets called into see Mother Superior who offers her a chance to meet her Aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), her only living relative.  Asked why she was never told about Wanda before, she’s told that all correspondence has been returned up until now. Hesitant, Ida tries to refuse the opportunity, especially since she feels hurt that she was not rescued from the orphanage by a relative when she was a child.

Ida (Trzebuchowska) at the nunnery

Ida (Trzebuchowska) at the nunnery

She travels to see Wanda and starts to realize why she has been estranged from her.  Wanda tells Ida that she is Jewish and that her mother and father were killed near their former residence. Downhearted she tells Wanda that she wants to see the old homestead and she agrees to take her.  So begins a road trip that brings a world of heart wrenching revelation that will change Wanda forever and force Ida to make a weighty decision.

The two lead actresses are extremely good under the direction of Pawel Pawlikowski.  Pawlikowski takes two opposites and puts them through remarkable paces. On their journey they begin to understand what they have become and the path on which they must travel.  Pawlikowski pulls off a realistic story that stuns with the revelation of deceptions by Polish citizens for their own ill gotten gain.

Wanda (Kulesza) listens at the door of an appartment

Wanda (Kulesza) listens at the door of an apartment

Agata Kulesza depicts a very strong persistent Wanda who has gathered a lot of hatred over the years since WWII when she fought for the Underground.  Now in her early 40’s she has worked her way up to a judge of the high court.  She knows her law being a state prosecutor for many years, but more so she has become immune to being judged. Her penchant for alcohol has started her downfall and added to the relentless determination to get answers.

Agata Trzebuchowska’s Ida is a complete opposite.  While Wanda shows her sinful side luring men into bed, Ida’s a saint that chooses the road of forgiveness.  She wants to know about her parent’s death, but realizes a lot of time has gone by.  All she wants is closure and not revenge. Yet we see Ida being affected by her aunt’s vengeance when it comes to dealing with those who know the truth about her parent’s death.

Pawlikowski (My Summer of Love, Last Resort) builds a lot of personal passion in both his characters before turning them loose on the people who have created the unbearable hurt.  He also has his characters waver from their paths showing the frailty in humanity.  In the end however, Pawlikowski adds a twist during the final reveal that cuts like a sword.  It’s a masterful coup d’etat.

Black and white cinematography shows the bleak countryside

Black and white cinematography shows the bleak countryside

The cinematography in black and white gives the feel of 1960’s Poland’s resent war torn past.  Dark, damp and sometimes dingy, the photography sets the tone and adds a frigid feel equal to the disturbing storyline.  Using some nice close shots we see Wanda’s ire and the damage that it has brought her over time. The towns are old and decaying, the roadsides overgrown and farm fields have turned brown from exhaustion.

Ida has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA for thematic elements, some sexuality and smoking.  Be cautious when deciding to allow immature children see the film as it does have some scenes that are inappropriate for adolescents. The film is shown in the Polish language with easy to read English Subtitles.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A very good indie that’s convincing and compelling. (A-) 

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska
Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski
Genre: Drama, Foreign (Polish), Black & White
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and smoking
Running Time: 1 hr 20 min
Release Date: June 20, 2014
Distributed by: Music Box Films

Opening this weekend in California:
in Long Beach at Art Theatre Long Beach

Currently showing in California:
in Oakland at the Piedmont Theatre
in San Louis Obispo at the Palm Theater

Opening this weekend in Florida:
in Miami at Coral Gables Art Cinema
in Key West at The Tropic Cinema
in Fort Lauderdale at The Classic Gateway Theatre
in Boca Raton at Living Room,
Regal Shadowood
in Delray Beach at Movies of Delray,
in Lake Worth at Movies at Lake Worth & Lake Worth Playhouse
in Tampa at the Tampa theater

Expanding on June 27:
in Miami at Cosford and O-Cinema,
in Gainesville at the Hippodrome,
in Naples at Silverspot Cinema,
in Bonita Springs at the Prado Cinema,
in Sarasota at Burns Court

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