Written by: Rebecca Lenkiewicz & Paweł Pawlikowski
Starring: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, Dawid Ogrodnik, Adam Szyszkowski
Closure for events in the past is not guaranteed but they can provide a crucial amount of context in life. Those who have the emotional bandwidth and opportunity to do so should take the opportunity, which becomes the throughline of the powerfully moving and exceptionally photographed Ida. A story about the past informing the future as two women enter a critical juncture in their lived experience.
On the verge of taking her vows to be a nun, Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) is told by her superior she must connect with her aunt, Wanda (Agata Kulesza), who is her last remaining relative. The two set out on a journey to find out what occurred to Ida’s parents, seeing as the young woman was raised in the convent. As they take a trip back in the past, they learn more about what they both individually need in life.
Bringing together the pair of Ida and Wanda demonstrates a union of the extremes of the promiscuous spectrum. You have Ida, who has not experienced much outside of her time at the convent, and Wanda, who spends most of her evenings drinking and engaging in casual sex. The two could not be further apart on this particular spectrum, but their familial bonds bring them together for this moment of closure. The bonding they experience, while bumpy at times, remains integral to their overall experience in life and whatever they do learn will undoubtedly leave a major impact on the other.
The dissemination of information found in this feature continues to spread seeds of Wanda’s past as the audience, along with Ida, gets more background of what the woman has achieved in her life. It becomes a learning experience for both, but it becomes critical for Ida considering she has lived quite the controlled and sheltered life in the convent. The young woman has pretty much dedicated her entire life towards God, but having this interaction with the real world feels like the final test of whether or not she wants to take on these vows for the rest of her life. Something intentional on the part of Ida’s superior at the convent, and the way this narrative plays out proves this very point. The more that gets learned about Wanda the more fascinating the story gets all the way until the final closure arrives and both of them can decide what they want to do moving forward.
In a visual sense, this film is quite the marvel as can be expected by now with the works of Paweł Pawlikowski and the cinematography of Łukasz Żal. These two combine so well in creating such a cold environment emotionally that eventually gets melted down just a bit. The scale they utilize in showing Ida’s relation to her surroundings factors into this feeling of isolation and loneliness this young woman feels even when traveling with a family member. Certain shots could just be hung up on a wall from their exceptional beauty in its black and white photography. It evokes the feeling of this being a haunting walk down memory lane while also necessary for these two as they elect what to do with the rest of their lives.
After going through a hefty portion of this narrative, it becomes obvious that nothing but harmful information will be at the end of this rainbow of a trail. As the conversations of the two women show and the morsels of information get established, the knowledge of their family’s death will inevitably lead to some heartbreak considering there must be a reason Ida survived whatever occurred and no one else did. With it being a look back to Poland in World War II and the revelation of Ida being Jewish, only the worst can be feared moving forward, and this bit of tension sits right at the tip of every conversation. Anyone who even had a cursory knowledge of World War II and the Nazi occupation of Poland can piece together that eventually these two women will hear some horrible news, but it’s the closure they seek.
With minimal dialogue in the narrative and several extended moments of silence to take in what occurs in the narrative, the powerhouse performances of Agata Kulesza and Agata Trzebuchowska do so much to convey the emotions of these characters within those silences. They both give these ponderous looks and are always processing the information they receive even if the dialogue does not provide them with the avenue to outwardly speak it. The internalized work here delivers exactly what Pawlikowski wants to convey through this narrative and attached with the cinematography, it makes for such a mesmerizing match.
Stirring in its presentation and satisfying narratively, Ida remains about how the knowledge of the past will inform the future. This journey causes these questions for these two women as they receive the closure they have always needed in life. Both on the cusp of major decisions moving forward, they both exhibit wonder and grief as an accurate amalgamation of life wonderfully constructed in such a brief and impactful feature film.