In his dispatch to Keyframe from Telluride, Jay Kuehner wrote: “Pawel Pawlikowski’s economic, melancholy, and visually austere homage to a bygone era of European cinema—its texture acts as an exquisite replica of the Polish New Wave, and unsurprisingly Jerzy Skolimowski is name checked in the credits—Ida proved the sleeper of the festival.” Now, he elaborates in Cinema Scope: “Orphaned, novitiate nun Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska, a non-actor discovered in a local café) prepares to take her vows, but is ordered to make contact with her last remaining relative, a hard-drinking but self-possessed aunt named Wanda who works as a judge. Wanda’s disclosure of Anna’s true identity as a Jew (her real name is Ida), and her own past as a prosecutor of ‘enemies of the people’ (historically, former anti-Nazi resistance fighters who were convicted in show trials under the Stalinist regime, though the film doesn’t elaborate on this as much), lead the pair on a search for the truth about Anna’s family…. Ida is an exquisitely rendered artifact that nonetheless becomes truer for holding its diminutive shape against such weighted material, something like finding a lost Zbigniew Herbert poem scrawled on a kielbasa wrapper.”
Ida, which has just won the top award at the Gdynia Film Festival and the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) for Special Presentations in Toronto, “is more a character study than an ideological statement,” writes Emma Myers for Film Comment. “Both the women are strongly written, and undergo arcs that are layered rather than engulfed by their political backstories. And the script, though sparse, is as comic as it is naturalistic. ‘Do you have carnal thoughts?’ Wanda asks Ida. ‘You should try, otherwise what sort of sacrifice are these vows for you?’ Ida’s only response is a half-amused, half-embarrassed smirk, but the seemingly ridiculous conceit that a soon-to-be nun should indulge her sexuality becomes a temptation within arms reach when Ida meets a handsome jazz musician on the road.”
“Beautifully shot in charcoal shades of gray in the boxy old Academy format that evokes the work of Danish master Carl Dreyer, this is a connoisseur’s delight,” writes Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter. “The director of the estimable Last Resort, My Summer of Love and The Woman in the Fifth, Pawlikowski in his past work has been artful without being arty, although the latter is no doubt what any middlebrow spectator stumbling into a cinema, and beholding the 1.37 aspect ratio, would call this one. Frame by frame, Ida looks resplendently bleak, its stunning monochromes combining with the inevitable gloomy Polish weather and communist-era deprivations to create a harsh, unforgiving environment.”
Variety‘s Peter Debruge: “Pawlikowski looked high and low for his leading lady, and in Trzebuchowska found an almost alien beauty—not a great actress necessarily (at least, not yet), but a young woman whose pale skin, wide pupils and dimpled triangle face convey the character’s half-formed transition into adulthood. She’s mesmerizing to watch, and yet, neither her performance nor the direction manage to penetrate what’s brewing behind those enigmatic eyes—dark windows into an inscrutable soul.”
“Ida is a testament to how much more less can be, and to the power of impassioned performances,” writes the Wall Street Journal‘s Joe Morgenstern. “Stripped of superfluous technique, this exquisite feature explores national as well as personal identity, and the need for belief in a bewildering world.” Also from Telluride, the New York Times‘ A.O. Scott: “Ida touches on both the legacy of the Holocaust and the realities of postwar Communism with apt sorrow and an equally apt touch of fatalistic humor.”
Update, 9/27: Music Box Films has picked up all U.S. and Canadian rights.
Update, 10/14: For the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw, Ida is “a small gem, tender and bleak, funny and sad, superbly photographed in luminous monochrome: a sort of neo-new wave movie with something of the classic Polish film school and something of Truffaut, but also deadpan flecks of Béla Tarr and Aki Kaurismäki.”
Update, 10/19: “Polish cinema has been in a rather wretched state in the last few years to put it mildly,” writes Patryk Czekaj at Twitch, “yet every now and then comes a picture that might seem special enough to restore faith in my country’s film industry. The problem is that the 21st century Polish cinema is composed mostly of infantile comedies, clichéd romances or repetitive period dramas… Although Pawel Pawlikowski’s film has slight religious and historical overtones, the ones that Polish viewers got used to over the course of years, it doesn’t use them to narrate the story, they’re just specific instruments that create the background of a more complex and compelling storyline.”
Updates, 5/2: With Ida opening at Film Forum today before rolling out to other theaters over the next few weeks, we’ve got another round of reviews. “‘So. You are a Jewish nun,’ a cynical Polish Communist greets her teenaged niece with just a touch of sarcasm. Were Ida a more sensationalist work or a 19th-century gothic novel, this bracing, beautifully wrought, and provocative new film… might have taken that characterization for its title.” Writing for Tablet, J. Hoberman notes that in Poland “Ida was thought by some local critics to be an answer or corrective to Władysław Pasikowski’s 2012 Aftermath, a ferocious and polarizing exposé of wartime crimes committed by Poles against their Jewish neighbors…. But where Aftermath was something close to a horror film playing out in early-21st-century Poland, Ida is distanced and reflective. Aftermath is designed to bruise, depicting anti-Semitism in the absence of Jews; Ida, which puts its Polish characters face to face with the Jewish ‘living remnant,’ is meant to haunt.”
For Godfrey Cheshire, writing at RogerEbert.com, Ida recalls other Masterpieces of Polish Cinema “ranging from Andrzej Wajda’s Innocent Sorcerers to Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s Mother Joan of the Angels (both 1960). But that’s not to suggest it’s a throwback or an exercise in cinematic nostalgia. Riveting, original and breathtakingly accomplished on every level, Ida would be a masterpiece in any era, in any country.”
“Ida has some of the structure and feeling of an ancient folk tale,” suggests the New York Times‘ A.O. Scott. “It concerns an orphan who must make her way through a haunted, threatening landscape, protected only by her own good sense and a powerful, not entirely trustworthy companion.” And “within its relatively brief duration and its narrow black-and-white frames, the movie somehow contains a cosmos of guilt, violence and pain.”
“The film is shot primarily by camera operator Lukasz Zal, making his feature debut,” writes Jonathan Romney for Film Comment. “And it’s meticulously designed by Katarzyna Sobanska and Marcel Slawinski; the lounges and bars echo the mood of the underground spaces of Wajda’s Fifties films (a friend also detected a flavor of early-Sixties Forman), but more than anything I was reminded of the melancholy retro of Kaurismäki’s Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatiana, while a wide shot of a car in a glum garage yard made me think of early Jarmusch. In any case, Ida’s cultivatedly stark beauty is neither merely decorative nor a shortcut to transcendental exaltation (as its opening shots might suggest). It’s a sharper, grittier film than the premise might make you think.”
More from Aaron Cutler (Voice), A.A. Dowd (AV Club, B+), David Edelstein (New York), Steve Erickson (Gay City News), Tom Huddleston (Time Out, 4/5), Patrick Z. McGavin, Benjamin Mercer (L), Andrew O’Hehir (Salon), Dana Stevens (Slate), David Thomson (New Republic) and Scott Tobias (Dissolve, 4/5). And Sydney Levine interviews Pawlikowski.
Update, 5/3: Danny Miller interviews Pawlikowski for Cinephiled.
Updates, 5/5: A bit of background from Hans Morgenstern at Reverse Shot:
Though Paweł Pawlikowski left Communist-era Poland as a teenager, his connection to the former socialist republic remains profound. After moving to western Europe and eventually settling in England, he began making films in the late 1980s, producing several award-winning documentaries focusing on Eastern European culture, providing ironic, sometimes surreal commentary on such subjects as epic Serbian poetry and Dostoevsky. (Valium) He eased into fiction filmmaking in 1998 with Twockers, a hybrid documentary/fiction short about teenage car thieves falling in love in Yorkshire. His breakthrough film arrived with 2000’s Last Resort, featuring English actor Paddy Considine as a man involved in a tumultuous engagement with a Russian émigré. In 2004, he adapted Yorkshire-based novelist Helen Cross’s hit novel My Summer of Love, starring a then-unknown Emily Blunt. Despite its concern with social class divisions, the film further distanced him from his roots. After seven years, he returned with his long-awaited follow-up, an adaptation of Douglas Kennedy’s novel The Woman in the Fifth, a suspense film situated in Paris starring Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas that failed to move critics or audiences.
His new film, Ida, feels like a career reboot.
“Quite soon in watching Ida, you recognize that you are going to have to see the picture again and again,” writes David Thomson in the New Republic. “It is like seeing Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc for the first time.”
Anthony Lane in the New Yorker on Wanda: “Moviegoers may be taken aback to encounter someone so layered, so dense with contradictions, and so rich in guises—first a stern arbiter in legal robes, then a chronic flirt in pearls and heels, dancing to jazz, and last a frightened figure hunched in the bath, looking stricken and suddenly old. Most novelists would kill to create her.” All in all: “This is solemn filmmaking, devoutly restrained and unshakably purposeful. We expect its austerity to fend us off, but no; it gathers us in and forbids us to look away.”
Livia Bloom interviews Pawlikowski for Filmmaker.
Update, 5/7: Violet Lucca interviews Pawlikowski for Film Comment.
Update, 5/12: “It’s impossible to discuss the film Ida without spoilers,” writes the New Yorker‘s Richard Brody, “because, without spoilers, there’s no way to show how the movie is a pernicious fraud—an aesthetic one and a historical one.” So, if you’ve seen it, read on. If not… well, that’s up to you.
Updates, 1/16: Vashi Nedomansky posts “52 of my favorite shots from Ida.”
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