Agata Trzebuchowska as Ida and Agata Kulesza as the world weary Wanda.
Agata Trzebuchowska as Ida and Agata Kulesza as the world weary Wanda.

Reminiscent of early Polanski, and in the great tradition of Polish pictures, IDA(M), is the latest film from Pawel Pawlikowski who has been plying his trade in the UK but returns to Poland in glorious triumph with this sparse, unadorned gem.

Picture opens in Poland in 1962 with Anna, a novitiate nun, and cohorts from her convent, doing some resurrection on a statue of Jesus. After restoring the statue of the Saviour to its pedestal, Anna is called into the Abbess’s office and told she must visit a relative, Wanda, her mother’s sister, before she will be permitted to take her final vows.

She dutifully travels to the city to see her aunt. In the scene where they meet, the opposites in their character is immediate. Wanda, still in dressing gown, smoke in hand, is seeing off a one night stand. Anna is in sack drab habit, her piousness palpable.

Exit lover and Wanda perfunctorily informs her niece that her real name is Ida and that she is a Jew sent to the convent orphanage in order to protect her from Nazi extermination eighteen years ago.

Dismissive at first, the likeness of her niece to her executed sister stirs subterranean feelings and soon the pair set off on a road trip to find the grave of Ida’s parents. In seeking closure, the two are brought closer, despite one being an alcohol abusing and cynical carousing cougar and the other being a pious virgin on the verge of holy orders. “The slut and the saint”, Wanda exclaims.

This extraordinarily beautiful and economical movie packs a hefty punch with its revelatory unraveling, it’s examination of post war Polish history, of birth and cultural identity.

Shot in black and white that evokes the period in which it is set as well as the melancholia the story is shrouded in, IDA is an affecting and accomplished film boasting two stellar performances from Agata Trzebuchowska as Ida and Agata Kulesza as the world weary Wanda.

Pawlikowski’s framing and composition is astounding, continually surprising and inventive, and the use of sound and silence is thrilling.
With so much movie making sinning against cinema, this sublime slice of pure cinema restores one’s awe of motion pictures.