Pol­ish film del­i­cately probes coun­try’s dif­fi­cult his­tory

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Ran­dall King

SHOT in a sub­limely bleak black-and-white in the quaintly squar­ish Academy ra­tio (1.375:1), di­rec­tor Pawel Paw­likowski’s film Ida has the look and feel of an east­ern Euro­pean film prod­uct of the early 1960s era in which it is set. Almost. Its sub­ject mat­ter — Poland’s un­com­fort­able his­tory of col­lu­sion with Nazis and the coun­try’s sub­se­quent po­lit­i­cal swing to com­mu­nism — sep­a­rates it from its an­tecedents. This wasn’t the kind of ma­te­rial freely ad­dressed in the early ’60s in Pol­ish cin­ema. Even so, Paw­likowski frames the events with sur­pris­ing del­i­cacy through the char­ac­ters of the con­vent-raised or­phan Anna (Agata Trze­bu­chowska) and her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza). A week be­fore she is to take her vows to be­come a nun her­self, Anna is sent to meet with Wanda, her one liv­ing rel­a­tive. Within a minute of open­ing the door, Wanda de­liv­ers this shock­ing news: “You’re a Jew.” Anna’s birth name is Ida. The rest of their fam­ily per­ished un­der mys­te­ri­ous cir­cum­stances. Wanda is a judge known as “Red Wanda” for the harsh pun­ish­ments she had meted out to en­e­mies of so­cial­ism. But she is ap­par­ently moved by Ida’s re­sem­blance to her own dead sis­ter, and agrees Their jour­ney is pho­tographed in dif­fused win­ter light with of­ten ec­cen­tric fram­ing, em­pha­siz­ing empty spa­ces at the top of the frame that could sug­gest ei­ther a godly pres­ence, as per Ida, or an ab­sence, as per Wanda. In the ti­tle role, Trze­bu­chowska is kind of a liv­ing em­bod­i­ment of the Kuleshov film the­ory, wherein au­di­ences as­sign sub­jec­tive mean­ing to a neu­tral im­age. Her dis­qui­et­ing gaze is a blank slate upon which Paw­likowski makes his in­quiry into the na­ture of iden­tity. In the role of Wanda, Agata Kulesza’s face is like­wise fre­quently seen in re­pose, but this more sea­soned ac­tress lay­ers depths of an­guish, re­gret and self-loathing on that still vis­age. In looks and abil­ity, Kulesza re­minds one of pow­er­house Amer­i­can ac­tress Amy Ryan, but by the end of this movie, she tran­scends such com­par­isons with her own­er­ship of this dif­fi­cult role. While of­ten de­scribed as a Pol­ish film­maker, Pawel Paw­likowski’s past films ( The Last Re­sort, The Woman in the Fifth) have largely been made else­where in Europe. With Ida, he im­presses as a new and pow­er­ful voice in Pol­ish cin­ema.


Agata Trze­bu­chowska as Ida.

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