Saturday, June 07, 2014


Landmark had Ida listed as the one-week booking at Kendall Square, and even put it in theater #9, but I'm guessing it's going to stick around longer than that and maybe even get bumped to a larger screen; the show I went to was all but sold out. A lot of senior tickets, sure, but they buy popcorn. I wouldn't be surprised if other theaters picked it up as well.

It's pretty great. I knew it was going to be gorgeous from the preview, but I don't know if I was quite ready for how beautiful and well-composed every shot looked from the very start, and I actually jumped a bit when one of the nuns, meaning to get Anna's attention, seemed to be staring right at me in an early scene. It's the sort of thing I suspect most filmmakers try to avoid, but Pawel Pawlikowski just goes right for it.

I suspect that this will be the rare "serious" movie I buy on Blu-ray when it become available. Most of the collection is there in case I decide I want to watch it on a whim, and that usually means comedy or adventure, but I can see pulling this one down on occasion, in part because it's short enough not to be a drag (a tight eighty minutes) and because, like I say in the review, I really would kind of like to go over it scene by scene in a "learning how film works" exercise. It's fantastically enough put together that I both want to admire it as a finished product and take it apart.


* * * * (out of four)
Seen 6 June 2014 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

Roughly three scenes into Ida, I figured that a good way to review this movie might be to simply list every scene - nay, every shot - and say why I loved it. Eighty minutes later, I was still fairly keen on the idea, although it would probably be too unwieldy. Besides, that runs the risk of over-emphasizing how good individual shots are at the expense of the whole, which is just as good as the sum of a number of excellent parts should be.

It starts with Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), an eighteen-year-old novice about to take her vows to join he order that has raised her since she was a baby orphaned during the war. Before she does, though, the Mother Superior has something she should know: Anna has an aunt, Wanda Gruz (Agata Kulesza), and although she declined repeated attempts at contact, it would be wrong for Anna to not meet her. So she goes to the city, where she soon learns that there is one more crucial bit of information the nuns have kept from her: That she was born Ida Lebenstein, to Jewish parents. And while Wanda is initially dismissive, she soon decides to help Anna find her parents' graves.

Ida takes place in the Poland of the early 1960s, and it looks like it might have been shot then, as well: It's black and white and decidedly not widescreen, with the camera tending to stay rooted in place for the duration of a shot. It's an unconventional choice today, but it allows director Pawel Pawlikowski and his cinematographers (Lukasz Zal replaced Ryszard Lenczewski after ten days due to illness) to not just use the layout to communicate with the viewer, but to encourage him or her to peer at it and suss out the meaning: All that vertical room will often be used to make the characters seem small and close to the ground, for instance, or a long shot will silently show Anna moving closer to Wanda rather than their guide. Characters who have been standing right in the middle of the frame will suddenly become visible as they move into different light, and the way they bounce inside of Wanda's car will indicate turmoil. The final shot, one of the few times when the camera moves along with the characters, has night falling and captures the fading of the light exquisitely. There isn't a single shot that merely seems like the easiest way to show what is happening, but none that prioritize composition over clear storytelling. This is exactly what the people with the camera are supposed to do, and it's seldom done better.

Full review at EFC

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