Ida (London Film Festival 2013)
Despite first impressions, Ida is a nuanced, moving coming-of-age story about the trivialities of identity and running from demons. It just happens to be a black-and-white period piece detailing 1960s Poland.
Agata Trzebuchowska is Anna, a shy teenager raised as an orphan in a convent. Before Anna takes her vows, she is advised to meet her only living relative: Wanda, her boozy aunt played by Agata Kulesza. Anna is informed her real name is actually Ida and her family were Jewish, before World War II separated them.
Ida and Wanda take a road trip through post-war Poland, both depleted and beautiful in its simplicity. Although not quite a detective story, the pair visit the house in which Ida’s family hid from the Nazis, while later setting out to uncover where Ida’s parents are buried.
Both leads are an obviously incongruent couple, even if united in familial bonding and a shared goal of historical discovery. Ida continues to pray and wear her religious clothing, despite the revelation, even maintaining a silence that could be either acceptance or denial. Meanwhile, Wanda sits by her side, gently prodding her over the necessity of carnal thoughts and taking off the headgear to literally let her hair down.
The one-sided conversations are as minimal as the bare backgrounds, with the notion placed firmly: after the news and its personal effect, does Ida continue with her new life? Whether Ida sees Christianity as a solution of way to hide, it’s hard to say, but still fascinating given Trzebuchowaska’s subtle reactions. When a stranger asks Ida to bless a small child, she is clearly rattled by her perceived duty – yet carries out the duty without complaint.
Wanda is an agitated foil, often with a cigarette in hand and the weary look of someone who’s given up on life. Wanda has her own demons, drudged up by her time as a judge nicknamed “Red Wanda”. With Ida, the women bundle an intricate cocktail of emotions that neither can full process, vainly hoping the road trip can lessen the pain.
Pawel Pawlikowski is economical in his direction, thankfully avoiding the melodrama and unnaturally dramatic actor pieces that films on this topic often pack in. At one point, Wanda starts a painful argument with a man who may or may not have killed Ida’s parents. As the volume escalates, Ida leaves the room to sit with farm animals – a moment symbolising Ida’s existential crux, where the truth is too painful to hear, and it’s a relief to hide in the crowd.
Ida is part of the London Film Festival’s “Official Competition” strand. Screening information can be found here.
80 mins approx