Before 18 year old Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) can take her vows to become a nun at the convent where she has lived since orphaned as a child, she is introduced to her mother's sister, Wanda (Agata Kulesza). She discovers that her aunt is not only a former hard-line Communist state prosecutor notorious for sentencing priests and others to death, but also a Jew. Anna learns that she too is Jewish - and that her real name is Ida. Ida has to choose between her birth identity and the religion that saved her from the massacres of the Nazi occupation of Poland. And Wanda must confront decisions she made during the War when she chose loyalty to the cause before family.
Review by Louise Keller:
Shot in moody black and white, Pawel Pawlikowski's film set in 1960 about a nun about to take her vows is an interesting juxtaposition of drama, road movie, coming of age story and sexual awakening, as secrets leads her into unexpected territory. Pawlikowski's screenplay (in collaboration with Rebecca Lenkiewicz) is contained and economical: there is no idle chit-chat. Dialogue is used only where there is something to say. It is unsurprising that the film's most powerful sequence contains no dialogue at all - only the music of Mozart, its ethereal beauty a harsh contrast to the circumstances at hand. In the lead role of Ida, newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska is impressive, her serene expression concealing the furnace of emotions within.
The establishment of the remote, bleak, snowy setting of the convent is made in a few short scenes before the novice, Anna (Trzebuchowska) is sent to meet her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), her only living relative. Her Jewish origins (and real name of Ida) are the first of the revelatory bombshells dropped; Wanda does not mince words or couch the blows of the information she delivers. It is through Ida's eyes that we discover the family's dark secrets and the weight of the burden that the chain-smoking, alcohol-dependent Wanda has been carrying all these years.
I'm a slut and you're a saint, Wanda tells Ida during the road trip they take in which key pit stops include a farm house, a hospital and a forest. The contrast between the ever-agitated, pearl-clad Wanda and the serene Ida in her novice outfit, her long hair covered, could not be greater. (We are told her hair is red.) When Wanda picks up a hitchhiker musician (Dawid Ogrodnik), there is an immediate shift of dynamic. This follows Wanda's asking Ida if she ever has lustful thoughts. Sex is clearly on Wanda's mind as she describes the alto sax the musician is carrying as 'a big instrument: male and sensual'.
The first time that Wanda and Ida watch the musician playing John Coltrane with his quartet and girl vocalist, they look like the epitome of the odd couple with Ida sedate and silent under her habit. 'You've no idea of the effect you have, do you?' the musician tells Ida, alerting us to the fact that he is bewitched by her. Ida looks like a different person without her habit, when we see her, the next time the band plays.
Like Pawlikowski's 2004 My Summer of Love in which the sexual awakening of its two lead characters is delicately depicted, Ida discovers her sexuality. The context and the underlying 'other man' (Jesus) is never far from our mind. But the essence of this story is far more complex and far-reaching than carnal desire. Kulesza channels angst and torment through Wanda, while Trzebuchowska is a star in the making, her screen presence luminous throughout.
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CAST: Agata Trzebuchowska, Agata Kulesza, Joanna Kulig, Adam Szyszkowski, Jerzy Trela
PRODUCER: Eric Abraham, Piotr Dzieciol, Ewa Puszczynska
DIRECTOR: Pawel Pawlikowski
SCRIPT: Pawel Pawlikowski, Rebecca Lenkiewicz
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ryszard Lenczewski, Lukasz Zal
EDITOR: Jaroslaw Kaminski
MUSIC: Kristian Selin Eidnes Andersen
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Marcel Slawinski, Katarzyna Sobanska-Strzalkowska
RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Curious Film
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 22, 2014