Films with shots that can stand alone as photographs demonstrate the quality of the filmmaker, and I think this is truly how you can tell that a filmmaker is great. Ida is a film with very interesting, unique shots that can definitely stand alone as photographs. It is shot in black & white, which makes it look more dramatic and authentic to begin with, not to mention the beautiful cinematography, which makes it really very compelling.
A Polish movie directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, it is about a young girl abandoned at a convent as a baby who goes on a journey to find out about her family as a young adult. She does not do so by choice, but is rather forced to meet her aunt by the Mother Superior at the convent shortly before she is to take her vows. Ida’s first encounter with her aunt is not a positive one, as her aunt does not seem very interested in meeting her, and not yet knowing what her profession is, comes off as a prostitute. Ida is about to go back to the convent after their brief meeting when her aunt retrieves her and decides to start a relationship with her. Ida finds out that she comes from a Jewish family, and considering she is preparing to take her vows to become a Catholic nun shortly thereafter is rather ironic.
Ida and her aunt go on a little road trip to find out what happened to her parents and they meet the family that was hiding them. This family turns out to be rather unpleasant, although helpful in the end. They find out that her parents and a young boy, who appears to be either Ida’s brother or her aunt’s son, are buried in the woods. He takes them there and digs out the grave so that Ida and her aunt can have proof and perhaps gain some closure. The aunt takes the child’s skull in her arms and Ida does the same with her parents so they can give them a proper burial at the family gravesite. I must admit this sequence is eerie, but it does bring a sense of closure both to Ida and her aunt and to the audience.
Along the way, they pick up a young musician looking for a ride. He happens to be going to the same place they are and performs shows at the hotel where Ida and her aunt are staying. Ida and the musician develop a bit of crush on each other, which in time develops into a relationship. It ends, however, after a sexual encounter much welcomed by Ida, but propels her back to the convent to take her vows and become a nun. Meanwhile, her aunt commits suicide by jumping out of her apartment window and Ida is again left without a family. This is perhaps one of the reasons she decides to go back to the convent. Her blossoming relationship with the musician is brief and filled with passion, but not true love and would not have necessarily turned out to be long-lasting even if she had stayed.
It is a slow-moving movie, it is a quiet movie, and it is a sad movie. Its plot and unique cinematography is not for everyone, but it is beautiful. I would encourage anyone interested in foreign film or great cinematography to give it a chance. It definitely makes me eager to see more of Pawel Pawlikowki’s films and more Polish films in general.