Filmed in dreary black and white, Ida is a dark journey of self-discovery in the post-war Polish past. In what may be a masterpiece, it tells a story of a virginal young girl, led on a road trip of horrific revelation by her not-so-innocent aunt.
Anna (newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska) is an orphan girl, brought up in a convent, within days of taking her vows of sisterhood. Then, Mother Superior (Halina Skoczynska) tells her, “Not so fast,” she must meet her only living relative, Aunt Wanda (Agata Kuleska). Having an unknown aunt is the first surprise, followed by Wanda’s double whammy of, “Your birth name is Ida and you’re Jewish.”
Ever pious, “Ida” reacts without a whimper. But, she does want to know about her past and her parents. So, it is in the car they go, along the bleak Polish countryside of 1962. Constantly smoking, drinking and picking up men, auntie has much more to reveal. Included is her career as “Red Wanda,” a ruthless judge and state prosecutor during the Communist “Show Trials” of the early 1950s, when she boasts of sending many “traitors” to their deaths.
At one point, they give a ride to young handsome saxophonist Lis (Dawid Ogrodnik), whose jazz and rock ‘n’ roll performance in a local club makes Ida wonder whether there may be more than just love of the Almighty.
The road continues, rolling onto the truth about her parents and a mysterious little boy seen in auntie’s old photos. It takes them back to World War II, the Nazi Occupation, the Holocaust and some serious digging (literally).
Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski often keeps his characters so low in the frame that the English sub-titles hang high in the sky or near the ceiling. The effect is of a divine presence watching over the angelic Anna/Ida. It offers hope in this world of sin.
See Ida take the road to salvation.