For the past week or so, I have been re-watching the movie Ida. I've watched it half an hour at a time, and gone back and watched some scenes over again. I could easily watch it two or three more times, and that is not something that I do. I came across the movie on Netflix last year and, of course, the fact that it was about a religious sister caught my eye. I liked it very much the first time I watched it, although it left me with some questions. Now I think it's the best movie I've seen in a long time.
As the movie begins, we see Ida face to face with a statue of the Sacred Heart that she is restoring for the courtyard of the convent.
As you see, the scene is bleak. The movie is filmed in black-and-white, and one might more accurately say that it is filmed in gray. This is post-war Poland, and though the convent appears to be an old stone mansion, it, as is most everything in the movie, is in bad repair. One gets the feeling that color film would be wasted here because most likely everything is gray anyway--and not just in the convent.
Ida is a war orphan who has been raised by the sisters in the convent. It is the only life that she has ever known, and now, a few weeks before her final profession, her superior tells her that she has a living relative, her mother's sister, who always refused to see her niece. The superior says that before Ida can make her profession, she has to go and meet her aunt, and, "Stay as there for as long as necessary."
Wanda Gruz is a judge, a former state persecutor for the Polish government. She "even sent a few people to death," "enemies of the people." Now we find her hearing the case of a protester who mowed down a bed of red tulips planted by socialist scouts with his grandfather's saber. At first Wanda is not happy to see Ida. The one thing she tells her niece about her family is that they were Jewish--a fact which was completely unknown to Ida.
Soon Wanda, remembering her love for her sister, and seeing the close resemblance between mother and daughter, invites Ida back to her apartment. She shows Ida pictures of her family, and tells her about her parents who were killed because they were Jews. She agrees to drive Ida back to their home and search for their graves.
I don't want to give away the rest of the plot. As Wanda and Ida find out more about the deaths of their family members, they also discover more about each other and about themselves. There are things that happen that may be a bit surprising, but maybe not. You might not like everything that happens in the movie, but I think that you will be glad you watched it.
Agata Trzebuchowska, who plays Ida is beautiful in a very simple sort of way. He eyes are amazing, dark and mysterious as we see the world through them. She has the gift of complete stillness, and there are scenes in the movie that are so still, and so silent, that a few times I checked to make sure the movie had not stopped streaming.
The cinematography is wonderful. I took a lot of screen shots so that you could see what I am talking about. Frequently, we see the scene from unexpected angles. They don't jar, though, like some off-center images, but seem fitting to the story.
In this scene, Wanda is using all her prosecutorial skill to question the (Catholic) man who now lives in the family home. Look at that picture of the Holy Family behind her head.
Although there are some extreme close-ups in important scenes, more often than not we see the characters dwarfed by their surroundings--caught up in events that are too big for them.
Often, they are set off in the corner of a blank background--
all but lost in the world looming over them.
The walk to the grave.
After watching Ida for the first time, I was surprised that I had not seen anyone else mention the film. Eventually, Artur Sebastian Rosman wrote two posts about it on his blog, Cosmos in the Lost, and you can read them here and here. He writes from a political and historical perspective which is a very different angle than the very personal one that interests me, but I was glad to have some background information. Also, Craig Burrell wrote about it briefly in January on All Manner of Thing. I read it at the time, but have been studiously avoiding re-reading it before writing this post.
I recommend watching Ida when you have time to sit and watch it quietly without interruption. It deserves the time and the stillness. You might even want to watch it again.