Stunningly shot in black and white, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida leads us on a meaningful road trip into a dark night of the Holocaust, Catholicism, and jazz.
Knife In The Water by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Taking a sharp turn away from the more mainstream ambitions of his previous film The Woman In The Fifth (with the ever bankable Kristin Scott Thomas and Ethan Hawke), Pawel Pawlikowski returns to his Polish roots with his first ever Polish language film Ida. Set in the Sixties and filmed in black and white, it’s a road movie with a difference as a young noviciate and her socialist aunt try to trace the fate of her Jewish parents during the Second World War. But with glimmers of young love, euro-pop-rock and an emerging identity, Ida finds trouble lurking beneath the surface of the dreams of a young life.
Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a young noviciate, who having grown up in a Catholic orphanage has decided to take her vows to become a nun. But before she does, she is contacted by her only living relative, Aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza). She takes a leave of absence from the convent to visit her, and after Wanda tells Anna that her real name is Ida, and she was born a Jew, the two women head out of Warsaw into the countryside to visit the family home they once lived in and retrace her parents’ final steps. Along the way they meet collaborators, resistants and hitchhiking jazz saxophonist Lis (Dawid Ogrodnik). But even seduced by jazz, cocktail dresses, judaism and socialism, Anna/Ida just can’t seem to kick the habit.
Beautifully monochrome, Pawlikowski’s Ida is above all a visual delight. From the murky greys that build out of the Polish fog that the two women drive into, to the bright white of snow and the dark black of night, it’s a cold, cold world they inhabit. A world where everyone is alone, cut off from each other and responsible for their own future. Even inside, in Aunt Wanda’s affluent Warsaw pad, or in an underground jazz bar, the cool remains palpable. But perhaps most fascinating is cinematographer Ryszard Lenczewski’s use of framing, positioning Pawlikowski’s characters at the bottom of the screen, with the weight of the world on their tender shoulders – not only their own futures, but the country’s too.
Ida starts magnificently – a touching road trip embarked on by an unlikely pair, as the urbane, jazz-listening and vodka-swilling aunt, who was once a powerful and important state prosecutor but has since been demoted to community magistrate, accompanied by her innocent and well-respected noviciate niece, undertake a journey into Poland’s past, uncovering awkward tensions between collaborators and resistants, Catholics and Jews. They make for an odd couple – at times familial, at others distant. Sometimes simply room-mates. For the war and socialism seem to have rent a hole in Polish relationships, creating a nation of individuals, communities divided – much like aunt and niece – by age, politics and religion.
Just as the two women lose their desire to see the journey through, so too does Pawlikowski’s film lose its way. Despite a devastating and shocking scene in which Wanda jumps out the window, no longer able to bear her life or the quest she’s on, Ida’s journey to discover her identity seems tonally at odds with its premise of a road movie uncovering the Holocaust’s legacy. But as Anna/Ida takes on her aunt’s persona – playing her records and wearing her cocktail dress to a jazz club, Ida develops nevertheless into a captivating cul-de-sac of jazz, Sixties pop, tender romance and self-exploration. Leaving behind a closeted existence of faith and Catholic asceticism for a new life filled with family, history, love, music and pleasure, Ida embraces it all with an impassive, wide-eyed silence. Perhaps it’s a symbolic break from the past in all its forms – whether Catholic or Jewish, Anna or Ida. Or maybe, as she walks bravely into a brand new world, it’s just a leap of faith.
Ida is released on 26th September 2014 in the UK