Pawlikowski’s Ida sees Agata Trzebuchowska cast in the lead role of Anna, an orphaned nun on the verge of taking her final vows. When she is instructed to meet her aunt (a former judge of the Communist Party and her only living relative) before her vows, she learns of her Jewish background, and the narrative of the film follows her through her journey to discover what happened to her parents during the Nazi occupation of Poland – with focus being drawn towards Anna and her aunt’s contrasting lifestyle choices.
Aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza) is the virtual antithesis of Anna, insomuch as she smokes cigarettes, partakes in alcohol, and engages in open flirtation with multiple men throughout the film. The tension that arises from their partnership is not just explored verbally – with Wanda referring to herself as a “slut” and Anna as a “saint” in a drunken stupor – but also through the vast areas of space created inside the frame.
Pawlikowski’s compositions have a tendency towards placing the actresses/actors in close proximity to one another with wide areas of space being left in the background and sides of the frame. Such scenes are juxtaposed with extreme close-ups that cut out half of a character’s face, or borderline Dutch angles that result in the feet being cut out of the frame, creating a sense of claustrophobic tension to combat the awkward atmosphere created in the emptiness that pervades the film.
Their relationship is intriguing, yet it draws to an abrupt close when Anna returns to the convent – shortly after which Wanda commits suicide. The narrative then continues its secondary relationship arc; that of Anna and the saxophone player she encounters in a hotel earlier in the film, with her curiosity towards the ‘carnal pleasures’ Wanda commented on in early stages of the film coming into the foreground of the plot. However, the relationship is barely developed any further, as Anna returns to the convent once more to conclude the film.
Despite this lack of in-depth character/relationship development, the cinematography is stunning throughout – with the bleakness of the narrative plot being replicated through the black and white footage, with its muted and grainy quality adding a definitive coldness to the desolate outdoor landscapes.
Irregardless of the simplicity of its plot, Ida manages to fill out its 82 minute run time without incessant dragging, which is pretty surprising considering the film really only has a handful of narrative arcs at most. Personally I think one of the major reasons the films escapes becoming monotonous and tedious to watch is the inclusion of John Coltrane’s jazz music into the soundtrack, which gives the audience a welcome break from the film’s incredibly bleak subject matter.