Ida (Music Box Films, PG-13)

ida 75It’s the type of movie that will impress you with how much you can wring out of the right topic with the right filmmakers.


ida 500 

Sometimes I find myself lamenting the fact that modern filmmakers akin to Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard, Michelangelo Antonioni, and their brethren aren’t making films, and that even most stuff that plays at the art houses bear more similarities to mainstream films than they do to the old art house. But then a film like Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida comes along, and I’m reminded to shut my stupid mouth for a while. Ida is one of those films that’s small-scale and reserved enough that it may not bowl you over on your first viewing, but it will stay with you, and you’ll later be embarrassed that you didn’t like it more at first.

Not that all modern art filmmakers need some historical art cinema figure to link them to (one of the reasons I love Apichatpong Weerasethakul so much is because his films don’t feel like anything else I’ve ever seen), but of the above options, Ida is most similar to Bergman. A lot of this is superficial—it’s a black-and-white chamber piece shot in the Academy ratio, like most of my favorite Bergman films—but all the same it might be a useful guide to help you figure out if you’ll like it. Ida is set in Poland in the 1960s, and concerns a young nun in a convent who thinks her name is Anna and is about to take her vows. Anna knows very little about her past, apart from that she’s an orphan. Before taking her vows, she meets her one remaining relative, her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), who drops several bombs on her: (1) her name is Ida, not Anna; (2) she was born Jewish, not Catholic; and (3) her parents died at the hands of the Nazis during the occupation.

It probably sounds like I’ve just slammed you with a lot of spoilers, but really, that’s the stuff from the beginning of the film that gets it rolling. The majority of Ida’s scant 80-minute runtime concern Anna/Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) and Wanda on a trip to visit her parents’ house. Ida is a short, rich movie with just a few characters, all of who are portrayed three-dimensionally. I’d be inclined to say it’s minimalist, but it certainly doesn’t feel minimalist—it’s the type of movie that will impress you with how much you can wring out of the right topic with the right filmmakers. Trzebuchowska has an amazing presence here. Ida is her first and so far only film, and her dark, dark retinas and pupils are almost enough to convince you that you’re watching a horror movie half the time. She’s aided by Pawlikowski’s regular cinematographer Ryszard Lenczewski, who has worked with Pawlikowski on several films, including My Summer of Love (yes, that’s the film that introduced much of the world to Emily Blunt) and Last Resort; here, he gets joint cinematography credit with relative newcomer Lukasz Zal. Apart from being an aesthetically gorgeous film, Lenczewski and Zal have a tendency to stick faces at the very bottom of the screen with a lot of dead space above them, and Music Box wisely has put the subtitles for these scenes at the top of the frame—which begs the question why more movie distributors don’t pay more attention to where their subtitles are going, and if they’re legible or not.

And to get back to my frequent lamentation about modern art house cinema: It isn’t so much that it isn’t being made, as that it’s getting harder to see it theatrically, especially here in St. Louis. So go see Ida, and hopefully there will be more to follow. | Pete Timmermann

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