Ida

idaThis film was nominated by the Academy for both Best Foreign Film and Best Cinematography. I don’t recall a foreign film ever being nominated for anything other than Best Foreign Film.

On paper Ida didn’t appeal; filmed in black and white, square aspect ratio, Polish language and its storyline involved a nun on the verge of taking vows. Ida also had some odd cast and crew. The original cinematographer quit early into filming and he was replaced by one of the film’s camera operators. The lead was not an actress, she was a student recruited out of a cafe because she fit the look of the character.

None of this screamed ‘watch me’ but the nominations from the Academy and the other 60 awards bestowed on the film caused me to reconsider. Glad about that.

Black and white is tricky. Sure, it can give the nostalgic atmosphere of a time before color film and that’s likely what you want for a film set in the 1960’s. However, color conveys quite a bit of visual information and tone,  so when its removed, more scene detail, more interesting composition and framing are needed. In Ida you will not miss the color, in fact, I think color might have detracted considerably from the net effect. Every frame is a museum quality photo. Camera operator turned Director of Cinematography, Lakasz Lal, weaves impossible angles, very tight zooms, the subtle, slow motion of nature and the rule of thirds composition together like a symphony conductor.  I seriously doubt he will resume his previous life after this coup.

The story line is interesting and dramatic. A young, orphaned nun is about to take her vows but Mother Superior insists she take some time out to visit with her only known relative, The Aunt. She does so and The Aunt fills her in on some of her family history; she also bluntly informs her that she’s Jewish.

Uh-oh.

The Aunt is hot-tempered, foul-mouthed, hard-drinking and treats men as disposable objects. But just when you think she’s cynical and beyond repair, she turns compassionate and helps Ida by taking her on a road trip through Poland to locate family and unearth more of her sealed up youth. What happens on the road trip is screenwriting genius and the meat of the story. I won’t give away any of the dramatic turns but Ida faces several life-changing moments, finding out she was Jewish being trivial in comparison.

Some friends commented that the ending was ambiguous, that Ida did not decide the course of her life. Would she still become a nun or did the events of the road trip change her mind? To me, in the final 2 minutes, she had absolutely decided. I based that conclusion on what Ida decided to wear after the road trip. In any case, the look of stoic resolution as she trudged firmly through the snow as the scene faded to credits was unforgettable.

Art-film lovers, those who gravitate toward meaty dramas with surprising twists and fans of black and white media will need to see this film.

 

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