Austere drama with striking cinematography set in 1960s Poland
Writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski's career has fizzled somewhat since 2004's My Summer Of Love, with his much anticipated adaptation of DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little now handed over to Werner Herzog. Ida takes Pawlikowski back to his native Poland for a thoughtful rumination on womanhood, religion and sexual politics, shot beautifully in black and white by Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal.
In Poland circa 1962, Sister Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a novice nun about to take her vows, but a meeting with her habitually booze-soaked chain-smoking aunt Wanda Gruz (Agata Kulesza) reveals that orphan Anna was originally named Ida and is Jewish, and prompts her to begin a search for the truth about her parents, who died during the German occupation of Poland. Wanda's own history as a Communist prosecutor is brought under scrutiny, and Ida finds herself with a series of self-defining decisions to make on their trip.
Ida's stark and striking cinematography almost overwhelms the thin narrative in the initial stages, but both the character and the film blossom as Ida discovers the joys of nightclubs, John Coltrane and sex. Co-writing with Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Pawlikowski captures the look of 1960s Polish cinema while keeping a low-key grip on the lead's emotional development. While such virtues are to be applauded, Ida is hard-going to watch; the remoteness of the central character fits nicely with the milky-white cinematography, but the result is austere and cold. Pawlikowski is respected for the clinical intellectual grasp he offers of coming-of-age issues, but Ida's search for her own identity offers only minor pleasures in the form of Trzebuchowska and Kulesza's performances; any wider resonance or meaning is hard to discern. Ida herself remains distant, and her struggle to shake off the burden of her country's past in hard to connect with for non-Polish audiences.
Reviewed at Glasgow Film Festival 2014.