4.5 stars
In Poland during the long Soviet winter, prior to taking her vows, Ida is sent from her nunnery. The young woman has been directed to meet with her agnostic aunt, a court judge who wants Ida to learn about the death of her parents before she marries God. The journey takes her through Warsaw and deep into the countryside where, among other things, it's revealed that Ida is not even Catholic, but a Jew.

This beautifully evocative film is certainly an acquired taste. Subdued, monochrome cinematography has been shot in 4:3 ratio with some very unusual framing choices that lends Ida a calming, old-fashioned appeal. There's something contemplative, almost meditative about the film that feels resurrected from the 1940's: it is set in the 1960's. The visual style wonderfully heightens the challenge of the world as Ida finds it, and our view of a country suppressed under the Russian yoke.

As with any good road trip, they encounter a variety of characters good and bad who tell us more about the women than themselves. Notable is the fearful son of a man who helped Ida's family during the war, and a musician who turns the nun's eye. The constant in all of this is Ida's obstreperous aunt, a resounding counterpoint to the young, naïve girl. “I'm a slut and you're a saint,” she says. Wielding not unreasonable power, she pushes through obstacles on earth and from heaven to try and discover the truth. What she learns leads to the story's most shocking moment.

This is a film of realisation, but what makes Ida so spellbinding is director Pawel Pawilowski's determination to let silence talk and space breath. It is a rarity in any film, one that is this story's powerhouse. Not that his cast don't pull their weight - Agata Kulesza and Agata Trzebuchowska are as convincing as they are compelling in rich, textured roles. It adds up to an extraordinary work that is notable not only for its style, simplicity and bravura, but its brevity as well. A mere eighty minutes in the theatre will resonate for hours, if not days afterwards. It is a haunting piece of work, an exquisite film.

Previewed at Studio 12, Entertainment Quarter, Sydney on 1 May 2014

Agata Kulesza
Agata Trzebuchowska
Dawid Ogrodnik

Pawel Pawilkowski

Pawel Pawilkowski
Rebecca Lenkiewicz

Poland (subtitles)


80 minutes

May 22, 2014
Ida (2013) on IMDb
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