Two women are on a journey in Ida, by director Pawel Pawlikowski (My Summer of Love, The Woman in the Fifth), opening Friday in Austin at Regal Arbor. Orphaned Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska making her film debut), a novice nun, has just found out she is Jewish and her birth name is Ida. Her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza, Suicide Room, Rose), a listless alcoholic judge, is taking her to find her lost family.
One can assume that since it's the late Fifties or early Sixties in the People's Republic of Poland, and Anna is Jewish and in her twenties, the story of what happened to her family is likely tied to the previous Nazi occupation.
Pawlikowski chose to shoot his film in black and white, which adds to the historical aspect of the narrative, but used a squishy 1.37:1 aspect ratio which almost negates any cinematic feeling Ida might have. Within these limits, the director still captures some beautifully framed shots. The stairs in the hotel lobby, the placement of Anna's head in the frame -- there are artistic touches here. The cinematography -- boxy as it may feel -- reflects how Anna keeps herself apart.
After Wanda tells Anna, "I won't let you waste your life" early in the film (Wanda doesn't want Anna to be a nun), the events in the third act struck me as preposterous. Given that there's not a whole lot of dialogue in Ida, one can read far too much meaning into the words that are spoken (I sure did). The final moments fit the tone of the rest of the movie, but it's not enough.