The silence used in Pawel Pawlikowski’s award-winning, thoughtful and intense new film “Ida” is deafening. Set in post-Stalinist Poland in the early 1960s, the audience is introduced to a bleak, black and white setting where the noise of footsteps on fallen snow or the sound of a spoon hitting the side of a bowl during breakfast feels like a violent interruption against the backdrop of a still, calm quiet.
Almost immediately the audience is introduced to Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), a teenage girl just a few weeks shy of taking her final vows and becoming a nun. Before she can promise herself to God, she is told by her Mother Superior that she should visit her only living relative, an aunt whom she has never met. Anna does what she is told, something that you feel is routine for the wide-eyed girl. When Anna’s aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza) opens the door upon their meeting, their differences become starkly apparent. Anna is dressed in light, solid colors with her hair neatly tucked away, while Wanda enters the scene with a cigarette in hand, a decorative silk robe hanging off her frame, a man in the back bedroom, and music loudly puncturing the tension between these two familial strangers.
As soon as she can get the words out, Wanda, a single judge and former prosecutor associated with the Stalinist regime, disrupts Anna’s seemingly serene existence with the a sly smile and a single sentence: “You’re Jewish.”
From there, the film begins as Anna and Wanda launch a journey searching for the horrific truth of what happened to Anna’s parents, both Jewish and living in Poland after World War II. Upon their quest, the two women discover new characters, including a young saxophonist named Lis (Dawid Ogrodnik), as well as their own specific identities.
I left the film feeling as though these characters had been through the battle of discovering their past, only to realize that the real fight begins when you have to negotiate your yesterdays with your todays and tomorrows.
Both actresses brought distinctly different performances to the screen. Trzebuchowska, a feminist and newcomer to acting, is almost expressionless throughout the entire film. Upon hearing that she is about to become a Jewish nun, she has no reaction — she doesn’t even blink. While this could prove frustrating to some, her quiet performance seemed to match that of the film’s soundscape and I was able to infer my own interpretations of her inner dialogue.
Kulesza plays Wanda in a slightly louder, but incredibly thoughtful way. Though mostly a mystery, you feel that Wanda has had life experiences that are always carried with her, allowing Wanda to live as the most layered character in the movie.
Pawlikowski (“My Summer of Love” and “The Woman in the Fifth”) wrote the screenplay with Rebecca Lenkiewicz and together they are able to give the audience a tale that feels historically specific, yet timeless as it leaves us thinking about loss, love, survival, and identity. After witnessing the intense journey of these two women, I couldn’t help but notice that nobody in the audience moved. Instead, they just gazed at the rolling screen credits with a stare as powerfully vacant as Anna’s and a silence just as deafening as the film itself.
Watch the trailer for “Ida” below.
Images via Roger Ebert , YouTube & The Szczecinian