A film that brilliantly captures the old world ghost-like beauty of Poland while simultaneously depicting the horror and devastation left by the Jewish Holocaust during World War II. With haunting black and white cinematography, “Ida” is a period piece, set in the Republic of Poland during the ‘60’s, a story both about identity and loss. Pawlikowski, After decades of absence from Poland, returned to his native country to explore the executions of millions of Polish Jews during the German occupation, and “Ida” is the result, winning the FIPRESCI Special Presentations Award in Toronto, along with Best European Film, “Ida” has already been dubbed as “the best film of the year” by many critics.
Anna, a young novice nun, is an orphan who knows nothing about the family that abandoned her in a church when she was an infant. Prepared to take her vows, she receives unsettling news from the prioress at the convent: she has an aunt who has appeared out of nowhere, and wishes to see her. The prioress tells Anna that she must seek out her aunt before she takes her vows, and Anna reluctantly agrees.
She travels by train to the Polish town of Ludz, where she meets Wanda, her mother’s sister, an alcoholic judge who has previously served as a prosecutor for the communist regime. Following an awkward introduction, Wanda is quick to inform Anna that her real name is Ida Lebenstein, and that her parents were of the millions of Jews killed by the Nazis. As Anna, now Ida realizes, she must go see the place where her parents are buried, and Wanda agrees to take her there. As the two set forth on a journey through uncharted journeys, the past will resurface to change their destiny in unexpected ways. The roads they travel are broad but cold and desolate, superbly shot in black and white which makes the harsh reality of new found identity even more raw.
Along the way, they pick up a young male hitchhiker, a saxophone player, who dallies the tunes of John Coltrane which put together side by side with the film’s Bach filled music score, gives a bewitching and nostalgic sense of being alive in the 60’s, and having to pick up the pieces of a nation brutalized by the horrors of war, along with the personal loss suffered by both Wanda and Ida . After much traveling and questioning old neighbors and enemies, the final resting place of Ida’s parents is revealed. As this truth comes to light, it will prove to be overwhelming and the consequences of this revelation may place these two women at the very edge of an overflowing glass of emotions that they are not prepared to deal with and that will have unimaginable consequences for both.
A journey of two very different women who are looking for the same destination: to come to terms with their own identity, and to make peace with the horrors of war as much as they can. The search is not only for Ida’s parents, but also for themselves, as Ida has only known the convent as her only place of solace and family. For Wanda, the re-connection with her niece is her only lifeline to the familial relations she had before the war, but has no idea how to establish a form of communication with Ida. This relationship, weak and shaky in the beginning, will become stronger as they travel closer to the grave site and begin to discover that perhaps they are not that different. With the limited narrative of only Wanda and Ida’s P.O.V., the audience is left to feel that they travel in this tiny car with them, searching for everything that was lost and perhaps will never be recovered. Clever jump cuts during the film gives the sensation of events happening rather fast, which gives the story line a smooth transition between scenes that otherwise would seem a bit long and dragged out.
“Ida” is the Polish entry for the 87th Academy Awards as Best Foreign Language Film.