Thursday, September 19, 2013

TIFF 2013 Review - Ida

Director Pawel Pawlikowski has shown a knack for introducing young female talent. He cast Emily Blunt in her first major picture role as Tasmin in his 2004 film My Summer Love.  Pawlikowski may have done it again with his lead actress Agata Trzebuchowska in the title role of his new film Ida.

The film focuses on a novice nun in the days leading up to her taking her vows. As one of the last acts before she commits to the church Ida an orphan that has grown up in the monastery is sent to meet with her only living relative Wanda Gruz (Agata Kuleza). Ida travels to her Aunt's residence to discover at first glance they are complete opposites. Wanda is a much older, a drinker, promiscuous, and has a tendency to stay up late at night greeting the next morning in a hung-over haze.  At one point she was a judge after the War but the story is silent on what happened to her posting. Wanda also informs Ida that she is Jewish showing her pictures of herself as a baby with her mother, Wanda's sister Roza. The pair set out to find out about Ida's parents and to find their final resting place.

The film is shot in black and white. The choice is very effective for both the monastery and the scenes in the small countryside towns in 1962 Poland. Pawlikowski makes many compelling decisions framing shots. One particular shot of Ida in the lower right hand frame of the screen with the trunk of her Aunt's car open behind her and over her head is mesmerizing. The muted black and white tones suit the lonely stark roads that the pair travel as they pursue their goal.

Cinematographer Lukasz Zal does superior work with lighting and shadows to recreate the feel of the time. The colouring in the hotel bar where the duo spend a night and each separately check out the band in the bar is sharp, vibrant and warm despite the potential limitations of monochrome. At the monastery during the vow ceremony light coming in through the windows during the procession adds greatly to the significance of the moment and the act of the participants.

Music plays a significant role in the film. Ida and Wanda pick up a saxophone playing hitchhiker and bring him to his next gig. The bands jazz set is featured prominently for a segment of the film. Look for Joanna Kulig who Pawlikowski worked with on The Women in the Fifth as the bands singer.  The  standards of the time mostly played on upright phonographs are also featured prominently in the film.

The real strength of the piece is the writing and the story itself. Pawlikowski co wrote the script with Rebecca Lenkiewicz. The result is a very powerful narrative on religion, dispossession, wartime atrocities, and the lack of consequences for the perpetuators. The story starts out with a simple enough premise, hits with a major revelation early on, then continues to build and unravel complex segments of the narrative as the action progresses.

The two lead performances are outstanding. Agata Kulesza as Wanda is tough as she constantly pushing and tests Ida's religious devotion. She is loud and confrontational but determined to show Ida what she needs to see, know and experience before she takes her vows. Agata Trzebuchowska shines as the quiet, naive and understated Ida. She has little knowledge of the world outside of the convent but gets an impression thanks to her aunt to enable her to make an informed decision about her future.

Ida is a beautifully shot, marvelously written story centering on two female lead characters that I can highly recommend. It's a film destined form many top ten list by year's end.

**** out of 4.

 IDA | Pawel Pawlikowski | Poland / Denmark | 2013 | 80 Minutes.

Tags:  TIFF FIPRESCI Award Winner, Poland, Monastery, Novice, Vows, Religion, Catholicism , Judaism, Jazz.

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