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Ida - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: A-
Acting: A-
Writing: A-
Cinematography: A
Editing: A

Ida is all of 80 minutes long, but once again proves that when in the right hands, a short movie can still be long on profundity. The narrative moves fairly slowly, so it never feels particularly short; it ends right when it feels like it should. And with no padding of any kind, every scene, every moment feels vital.

These elements are underscored by the cinematography, which is here unusually pointed and deliberate. Not only is this movie, about an orphan nun discovering her Jewish roots in 1962 Poland, shot in black and white; even the aspect ratio is unlike any other movie in theatres since the forties. The picture is nearly square in shape, so that instead of seeing black bars on the top and bottom of a letterboxed movie on a TV screen, now it's sort of like watching TV on the big screen with black bars on the left and right. Or, perhaps from a more 2010s perspective, it's like Instagram traveled to dreary postwar Poland. Within that context, though, just about every shot is a photographic work of art.

This is not a particularly uplifting film. Ida is more concerned with lamenting the tragic history of 20th-century Europe. Director and co-writer Pawel Pawlikowski simply narrows down the focus to this one young woman, as well as the aunt who refused to take her in after her parents were killed when she was a child. It's a very intimate story, focused largely on just two people, with far reaching implications. Sometimes a massive amount can be said with very little.

Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) is merely a birth name; she now goes by Anna. In fact, Anna does not even learn anything about her past until a nun at the convent where she grew up insists she go spend some time with her aunt before choosing to take her vows as planned the following week. "You will stay with her for as long as is necessary," she's told.

Her aunt, Wanda (Agata Kulesza), invites Anna into her home rather stoically. There is a man in Wanda's bed when Anna arrives, but he disappears quickly. More men come and go. We eventually learn that Wanda is a bit of a slut and an alcoholic, and used to be an infamous hardline judge. These details, among others, come to light rather slowly, but it works because it allows us as audience members to digest them fully, just as Anna is coming to terms with little details here and there that are progressively shocking.

The two go on a journey together in an attempt to find where Ida's parents are buried. Anna/Ida looks at Wanda's old pictures; sees one and asks if she had a brother. Wanda is cagey about it. I don't want to give too much away.

Ida is the antithesis of a Hollywood movie on virtually every level: the subject matter; the editing; the cinematography; the script. The acting is broadly understated, but appropriate for the characters. It seems unlikely to have cost very much to make this movie, and yet it approaches genuine greatness. It bears repeat viewings, at least for thoughtful audiences. One could argue that does not include vast swaths of American viewers; this is a subtitled Polish movie, after all. There is little doubt how many people would actually be bored stiff by this movie.

All I can say is, I absolutely wasn't. This was a great movie to see after the likes of the ridiculous 22 Jump Street -- a pointless sequel to a silly reboot of a dated television show. Yay America! There's a whole other world out there, though, and Ida reminds you of how cinema can still be a vital art form, a continued vessel for original vision.

Granted, by now there have been literally hundreds of movies about the Holocaust, and even about repressed young people discovering themselves. But to reduce Ida to these descriptions is to do it a disservice. This is quiet story with moral complexities that sneak up on you, right down to Anna's discovery of herself as "a Jewish nun," as her aunt refers to her. The story only gets progressively richer from there, as Anna and Wanda travel to the secluded resting place of their murdered relatives. They are provided no easy answers, and neither are we. That's what is most satisfying about it.

Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza uncover a very dark family past in IDA.

Overall: A-
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