• Angus McGregor

First Time Watch - Ida

Updated: Jun 25, 2020

In the grand scheme of things, recent cancelled holidays and events really aren't that big of a deal, with the state of the world just now being a clear reminder of privileges and how lucky some of us are. As the virus continues to plague the world, please make sure to be staying safe and taking the right precautions to ensure maximum safety for yourself and others around you. As well as this, make sure to keep up on the #BlackLivesMatter movement and continue doing whatever you can in order to help change. We're already seeing action being taken through petitions and overwhelming support so please continue this effort and continue to make way for change. You can continue going to websites such as blacklivesmatters.carrd.co and www.itsnicethat.com to find out what you can do to help out on a number of levels. It's extremely easy to help out, even if it is taking ten minutes of your day to sign a number of petitions. There's a long way to go in this fight against injustice and racism, but we can all help towards it each and every day.

As aforementioned, cancelled leisure events and such are nothing in comparison to the true horrors within the world right now. This week I was supposed to be flying out to Poland for 10 days of sightseeing, visiting my wonderful other half's relatives and doskonalenie jezyka. Now despite everything going on in the world and this very much being a trivial problem, it is only human to be disappointed by setbacks like this. So to help soothe the issue of missing out, it felt only right to fill the void by watching a Polish film. Luckily, I had one in mind.

A university lecturer of mine constantly raved about a certain Polish film, managing to squeeze it into discussions on most lectures we had with him. He adored this film and clearly had a lot of passion, especially for it to have firmly remained ingrained in my mind for a few years. With such enthusiasm being showcased, I always intended to getting round to this one, but due to a lack of available physical media near me and not being on the likes of Netflix, it never happened.

Thankfully, since then I have become aware of Mubi, a streaming service specialising in arthouse and foreign films. Usually using a format of only having 30 films available, with a new film every day, Mubi recently opened up its entire library for subscribers to have full rein on. After extensive browsing, a watchlist was assembled and kept for moments like this. Thankfully, said list came into use straight away.

Plot Synopsis: In 1962, Anna is about to take vows as a nun when she learns from her only relative that she is Jewish. Both women embark on a journey to discover their family story and where they belong.

Before Pawel Pawlikowski was earning Best Director nominations at the Oscars (Cold War, 2018), he burst onto the scene with the Best Foreign Language Film 'Ida'. Straight away the similarities in the director's style are apparent, opting for black and white to add a sombre layer whilst utilising carefully laid out still frames to perfection. Pawlikowski's use of close-ups is exceptional, combining with some wonderful performances to showcase emotion.

However, this film does not really look to induce such emotion within the viewer, opting for a more thought-provoking experience rather than that of emotion. To be quite frank, there really isn't much depth or knowledge about the titular and lead character. At times, she can come across as quite bland but of course, as a practicing sister, this makes sense despite not necessarily being the most engaging. This follows most of the film, with not a lot of detail given to certain moments but implying certain messages, tones and, in particular, events. Following the aftermath of historical events such as the Holocaust and Communism, despite never directly addressing them, the film risks alienating members of a wider audience simply due to lack of historical/geographical knowledge. This goes back to the films more thought-provoking side, encouraging those to fill in the blanks which showcase the nations tragic history, adding to the film's impact.

In amongst the Polish backdrop post World War 2 and Stalinism is a story of two women dealing with problems of identity. Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) is on the path to becoming a nun, has been orphaned and has only ever known the way of the church and not been exposed to the outside world. Before taking her vows, she is sent out to find out more about her family, opening up a new world to her. As previously mentioned, Ida doesn't go into great detail about much, clearly disciplined to remain humble and only showcasing short glimpses of intrigue or excitement. This aspect, particularly towards the end could have done with some more work, as Ida begins to question her future. We see an exploration but little detail as to how conflicting she is or how interested she is in the wider world. With each revelation, there doesn't seem to be much of a reaction, especially in an emotional way.

Alongside Ida is her aunt, Wanda (Agata Kulesza), in is what is a deliberate complete contrast. Wanda's identity crisis comes much more in the shape of regrets. With a very troubled past, Wanda is the complete opposite to Ida, showcasing vulnerabilities and emotion with excess intake of drugs used to showcase a struggle when dealing with issues. A troubled soul who is the complete opposite to the youthful and innocent Ida, Kulesza stands out with a more visible performance due to more exposure and personality. The previously mentioned close up scenes, especially when Kulesza is driving, is particularly impressive, as the actress quietly showcases great class in what is a tremendous overall performance.

Of course, with Ida's road to becoming a Nun, religion is a constant feature, focussing on Judaism in Poland post World War II. This feature brings a lot of sorrow and a lot of commentary on shame as they look to their recent past where 90% of the Jewish population in the country were cruelly perished. As Ida looks to find out what happened to her family, there seems to be a hesitance to talk about the atrocities and guilt towards what happened. Many don't want to talk about such things and even Ida doesn't seem overly invested in learning about it, other than what happened to her fallen parents. Her faith isn't questioned, sticking firmly to her Catholic beliefs despite learning of her origins. In a way, this can be interpreted as Poland moving on from these atrocities with Catholicism becoming the path for the majority, much like Ida. Even today, Catholicism is the main religion and continues to play a part in politics, whilst the presence of Judaism has continued to deplete and I believe 'Ida' portrays this excellently, contrasting the public reaction to the two religions very clearly.

'Ida' is very clearly a personal film and one very much close-knit to a nations torrid history. As previously mentioned, those not so familiar with certain events will not be as engrossed by proceedings but nonetheless, 'Ida' is a terrific piece of work from a very artistic director. There is a lot to unpack which requires a lot more thought throughout, rather than relying on inciting incidents and events to create drama. It's quiet but you can feel the torment of a nation and horrible past. The film could still do with some more character within it, but at a runtime of 82 minutes, it manages to get away with it without it ever becoming dull. For some, this film won't do the trick and understandably so. However, I do feel the film unpacks a lot and with superb cinematography, there is plenty to get out of viewing 'Ida'.

Final Rating: 3.5/5

Another successful viewing as a part of this series, I would recommend checking out 'Ida' and the streaming service Mubi as a whole. They offer free trials and feature a lot of hidden gems and classics to catch up on and experience for the first time. There's a lot of great content to check out and is perfect for any cinephile. As usual, I hope everyone is staying safe during this time and hope you continue to support the #BlackLivesMatter as we return to normality. There's still a lot to do so please continue your support. Thanks again for reading my review, I hope that you enjoyed it and are intrigued to check this film out. Stay safe and hope you return for more reviews coming soon!

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