(Ida is nominated in two categories, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Cinematography.)
The cinematographers nominated are Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski. Lenczewski started on the film, but it is said he didn’t like it, so he was replaced by Zal. I note this mainly because the look of the film is crucial … I wonder what Lenczewski didn’t like.
That look strikes us right from the start. The film is in black and white, which is just common enough for us to accept it. But it is also presented in the old-school “Academy ratio” of 4:3 (like the picture on old TVs, or, obviously, the screen shape on most movies until the widescreen era). We can’t help but feel like we’re in the world of 1960s European art films, and since Ida takes place in 1960s Poland, that feeling is interestingly appropriate.
Since I’m just starting my viewing of this year’s Oscar nominees, I can’t compare Ida to the other nominated films in its categories. But this is a good one. The stark look helps, of course, but the work of the two primary actors, Agata Kulesza and Agata Trzebuchowska, really makes the film. To me, they are both unknowns, although Kulesza has been impressing for two decades. Trzebuchowska, on the other hand, is an amateur … Ida is her first movie, in fact, as far as I can tell it’s her first work as an actress. Both actors shine, but the contrast in their experience, and the way it plays out on screen, is a perfect match for their characters. Kulesza plays a woman in her early-40s who once worked as a judge who sent anti-communists to their death. She smokes, she drinks too much, she sleeps around. Trzebuchowska plays the titular Ida (first introduced as “Anna”), a young woman about to take her vows to be a nun. Ida/Anna goes to meet her only living relative, Aunt Wanda (Kulesza), before taking the vows, and both women learn something about their past and its still-present influence on their current lives. The professional actor Kulesza plays the “mentor”, the amateur Trzebuchowska plays the novitiate, and their chemistry is the key to the success of the movie.
It is good to see a foreign language film getting an “extra” nomination. It would have been even nicer to see Kulesza recognized in one of the acting categories, although I appreciate it’s a bit much to expect such a nomination from a foreign language film. Ida is a hard sell, a bleak Polish film about nuns and Stalinism and Jews in Poland during WWII. Hey, it’s only 80 minutes long … you can handle it. 8/10. It’s hard to recommend a companion film. You could go with one of the other Best Foreign Language Film nominees. This is my first Pawlikowski film … just guessing, perhaps The Woman in the Fifth with Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas would be relatively easy to check out.