“Ida“ was one of the strongest films at the Telluride Film Festival, a small gem, an enthralling look at two women affected by the turmoil of Poland in 1962. Director Pawel Pawlikowski (“My Summer of Love”) who also co-wrote the screenplay was born in Poland and has been based in the UK. This film is in Polish.
Stark black and white images are projected in the square frame style of older films, giving “Ida” the appearance of a remnant of the past.
Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a young woman preparing to take her vows to be a nun at the convent where she has lived since being orphaned as a child. She is told she must visit her one living relative, an aunt named Wanda. This is the first time Anna had heard of any relatives. She leaves the convent to meet Wanda.
Wanda (Agata Kulesza) is a hard-edged, heavy drinking former Stalinist prosecutor. She tells Anna that both of them are Jewish and that Anna’s original name is Ida. They join together to discover how Ida’s parents, hidden by a Polish farmer during the Nazi occupation, were killed. Wanda must also face the consequences of her past decisions.
Ida is unsure of which part of her identity to ultimately claim. She puts on her aunt’s clothes and shoes and becomes drawn to a young musician.
Both lead actresses create distinctive characterizations. Like their characters they have diverse backgrounds. Kulesza has extensive acting experience. “Ida” is the first film of Trzebuchowska whose face conveys her character’s conflicted emotions as her life is upended
Pawlikowski has given his film a fascinating and unique look. The characters often appear in the bottom half of the frame, as if weighted down by the past and how that past has affected their present circumstances.
After the film’s screening Pawel Pawlikowski said that as director, he “suggests a lot by not showing much”, revealing information “in bits”. In his film, the natural history of Poland is “imbued in the family” of Ida and Wanda.
Actual incidents inspired the film for Pawlikowski. A Polish priest discovered he was Jewish. Poland had requested the extradition of the wife of a professor Pawlikowski knew at Oxford for crimes committed when she was a prosecutor in Poland.
Pawlikowski described Wanda as “a battlefield of different things”. He added that Anna was “deeply spiritual” and “imbued with God”, a “woman of God” who “won’t engage with life on life’s terms.”
He described how newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska was found for the pivotal title role. While he was in Paris, a friend sent him an IPhone photo of Agata and he later tracked her down.