Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida is a contemplative experience defined by its restrained emotionality, cool black-and-white photography and its static, reflective mise en scène. The film tells the tale of Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), a young novice nun who’s lived with sisters for her entire life, who’s sent to visit her aunt, Wanda (Agata Kulesza). Former Stalinist prosecutor Wanda reveals that Anna’s real name is Ida Lebenstein, she’s Jewish, and that her parents were murdered in World War II.
Ida and Wanda’s subsequent journey – both the physical one they take in search of Ida’s parents’ resting place and the existential one they navigate through regret and religion and morality – is filmed gorgeously, but Pawlikowski never allows us to get too close. We consistently see Ida and Wanda relegated to the lower margins of the frame, as though the weight of these women’s internal conflict has unbalanced the composition.
Ida is a thoughtful and beautiful film. It’s very much centred on 1960s Poland, about the deep scars left in the country by Stalin and the Holocaust, and that subject matter and the film’s sombre aesthetic will not be for everyone. But its reflections on the alignment of our moral and spiritual compasses are universal.