“God is everywhere, I know.”
Let me be upfront; Ida is one of the best movies released this year, and I’m confident it will stay that way once 2014 comes to a close. Whether you’re religious or not won’t matter a bit. The film takes an outsider approach, never siding too closely with the devout or the secular. Yes, it’s foreign. Yes, it’s black and white. Get over it. Turn off your cellphone for once, maybe even dim the lights, and intensely dedicate less than an hour and a half of your life to this film. I assure you the awards are bountiful. Like most things that matter, you get out of it what you are willing to put in.
This is a short glimpse into the life of Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska). She is a novitiate nun on the verge of permanently dedicating her life to the faith. The prioress of her monastery tells her to visit her family before she lays prostrate while taking her Temporary Vows. There’s a hitch…Ida’s parents are dead. Her binge-drinking and worn Aunt Wanda Gruz (Agata Kulesza) is in charge of taking her to their resting place. For all of it’s technical marvel, Ida is a road movie in the simplest fashion. We get to see two long lost family members come together in a joint cause. Ida never reviles her Aunt’s slattern tendencies and Wanda doesn’t bother to provide an exegesis on the faith Ida has given her life to. They just want to enjoy their time together.
Set in 1960’s Poland, the story’s stark black and white landscape is anything but the repressive red of the Stalinist Regime. This is also a journey of self discovery for the two leads. Wanda falls deeper into a self-detrimental spiral as she finds a harsh reality to be true; her life has lost meaning. Contrarily, Ida uncovers who she really is through her birthright and her spirituality. Her surname is actually Liebenstein. Realizing that you’re Jewish while on the verge of taking your vows in the Catholic church would surely be shocking. So much more than that happens though, and each step along their journey goes deeper and darker. 80 minutes is shorter than classic Disney animations, and every single frame oozes importance.
Up until now I had yet to see a film by Pawel Pawlikowski. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is easily one of the best looking films I’ve seen to date. Words really can’t evoke the same experience that the movie gives. Pawlikowski is able to do more with a binary palette than somebody like Michael Bay could will endless colors and visual effects. Further complimenting the film’s effect is the camera placement. The director uses the rule of thirds as a tool to explore the characters’ inner emotions. Ida is almost always placed in the lower third of the screen, oftentimes in a corner. That’s not symbolism for a tyrannical government as so many writers have suggested. In my opinion, it’s to show Ida’s ideology on her pious lifestyle, how she is merely a crusader for Christ, a vessel of servitude to her creator above. Wanda also roams in and out of the same segments of the screen except she represents the crestfallen nadir where she has long been a willing tenant.
Late in the film, Ida sheds the habit of wearing her habit and ventures out into the world as seen by Wanda. With her hair let loose and a disarming musician licking his chops at the sight of her, she relishes the spotlight that she has so willingly passed on to her religious savior. To say more that happens before this point or after would sacrifice a lot of what makes the movie special. The youthful and naive girl grows in to a woman before our eyes, making decisions that we won’t necessarily agree with but can’t reprimand either. Like most young men and women, no matter the circumstance, they just want experience. That’s how you grow. It won’t beacon you to a life in the church. It won’t force you into damning critiques either. You’ll feel compelled to answer the three most important questions a person can ask oneself: Who do you want to be? Where do you want go? And what do you want to do? Ida tries its hardest to make you believe in the film’s message. Boy does it succeed.
“You have no idea the effect you have, do you?”
Rating: 4.5 out of 5