There’s a heavy quietness in every frame of Ida, heightened by its protagonist’s opaque facial expressions, the 1:37:1 aspect ratio, and the black and white cinematography. Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a novice nun, quietly and faithfully performing her duties, preparing for her upcoming vows. She is told to visit her aunt before she commits to the convent for life. It is here we are introduced to Wanda Gruz (Agata Kulesza). And what an introduction it is.
Much of the film’s lean running time is spent with its two leading ladies. Their first encounter is a splendid one. The modestly dressed Anna knocks on Wanda’s door. Wanda answers, dressed in a slinky black night gown, smoking a cigarette, oozing sophistication, snappy jazz slipping through the doorway behind her. Anna enters as a man quickly dresses and leaves and Wanda dryly and indifferently informs her that she is Jewish and her real name is Ida. The two then journey together through the countryside, attempting to find the grave of Ida’s parents.
Ida is a striking film on multiple levels. Pawel Pawlikowski has crafted a true work of art, undoubtedly the most beautiful film of the year visually. Every frame of the film begs to be captured and put on display. And I mean every single frame. The black and white images are pristine, lit to perfection, and composed meticulously. At times it reminded me of a Wes Anderson without the clutter, quirkiness, and pizazz. No film of 2014 looked this good.
Intellectually Ida is as engaging as it is visually, and the two Agata’s own the film. Their dichotomy is playful, endearing, and compelling (“Will you come to my vows?” Ida asks. “No, but I’ll drink to your health,” Wanda replies). Both women are concretely drawn and brought to life (Kulesza is masterful and newcomer Trzebuchowska holds her own), shaping their identities and piecing together the puzzles of the past. However, both women come to bear more symbolic weight as the film progresses. Ida is primarily passive, a blank slate (similar to Ryan Gosling in Only God Forgives, perhaps the most laughable yet accurate comparison). She is serene, faithful, spiritual, and seemingly unfettered by the ways of the world. Wanda’s sophistication, intelligence, fierce sexuality, and power is of the world, hardened, shaped, defined, and dictated through years of experience and hardships (of which she has been both the victim and the perpetrator).
It is a beautiful, intricate relationship in a beautiful and intricate film. Ida looks at identity, spirituality, faith, and materialism, asking questions about the world and God and where the two meet. Ida’s journey away from her convent and into the “sinful” nature of the world – a world full of great beauty and ugliness – begins to shape her identity just as much as her investigation into her past. Indeed Ida is a film that suggests that who you are has a great bearing on who you are.