Pawel Pawlikowski has a solid reputation in Europe — especially Britain, for award-winners such as “Summer of Love” (2004) and “Last Resort” (2000). But after spending his entire film career away from home, Pawlikowski returned to his native Poland to try something different. “Ida” is the result: The starkly elegant tale of a young woman’s journey of self-discovery in Poland in 1960.
Shot in gorgeous black and white, “Ida” traces the life of orphan Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) as she prepares to take the final vows to become a nun. Before she does, the mother superior tells Anna that she has an aunt, Wanda (Agata Kulesza), and that Anna should pay her a visit. The initial meeting between the two women is strikingly devoid of emotion — even chilling. But you can feel that this moment is a monumental event in both these women’s lives.
Like most Poles who lived through the postwar years, Wanda had gone through unspeakable suffering, while Anna had been largely protected from reality inside the orphanage. Wanda — with what seems like hurtful intent — informs Anna that their family were Jews and that Anna’s real name is Ida. She then steps back to see what her niece is going to do with that knowledge. An intricate and sublime piece of filmmaking.