Film Trance new boy Julian Uzunov begins his examination of this year’s Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars by reviewing Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida.
The dark and artistic Ida gives us something we have long felt forgotten in the art of cinema: the perfect example of how less means so much more. Poland’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film category has already taken Europe by storm and with its recent Golden Globe nomination, it seems the Academy has noticed it as well.
Set in the 60s, the drama follows a young nun, Anna, (screen debut by Agata Trzebuchowska), who sets off to uncover her past before she takes her vows. She meets up with her only known relative, Wanda, (Agata Kulesza) to find out more about her parents’ fate. Wanda, a depressed, alcoholic judge with a grim past of her own, reveals that Anna is actually Jewish, and that her past leads back to the Nazi occupation of Poland.
Together, the two women start a journey to uncover the true fate of Anna’s parents. As the truth becomes more and more clear, Anna’s beliefs begin crumbling down and the journey becomes not only to find her past, but her future as well.
The whole film is shot in black and white and every scene filmed with a locked down shot. The movie does not have much dialogue, and has even less movement. It is as if you are looking at a series of old photographs telling a story. Lukazs Zal really lets the scenery and the expressions of the actors do the whole work. With current movies heavily relying on acting or effects, many directors forget about the power of the camera. With actors barely taking up ¼ of a shot, and sometimes even barely seen in the frame, Zal shows us how everything is part of something bigger. The actors are but a small part of everything. It is in the unsaid words that we find the most meaning. You can read the whole dialogue by just the faces of the actors and the setting they are in. Such techniques, which are so typical of Ingmar Bergman and Woody Allen, I had thought completely lost with the death of Kubrick (and no Shyamalan, just tilting the camera or doing a long pan shot does not make a movie edgy or arty. Go away!)
In addition, the film brings up some very heavy questions, like the role of religion, society and music to an individual, but it does not give a clear conclusion. And it feels like this is not all. I bet that everyone will find something for themselves in this movie. The quiet and dark atmosphere gives you the opportunity to really dwell on a scene and become really immersed into it.
However, this makes the film quite slow at times, and despite its short length of 80 minutes it does feel like it is dragging at times. Trying to have every scene heavily arty and with a suggested deeper meaning comes out as quite pretentious and tiring at times, which adds to the feeling that certain shots are pointless. (Taking points away for using a Shyamalan technique.) Thankfully, that is not the case for the large majority of the film. The film’s other weakness is the main actress Agata Trzebuchowska whose expressions are often far too bland. (But I don’t mean Kristen Stewart bland, so don’t worry.) Personally, I think it is quite forgiveable, as she had never had any acting experience prior to this. In fact, the girl was spotted one day in the café and then talked into taking up a film role. Why did the director want her? Beats me. But it is an excellent start to a career if she decides to continue.
With masterful camera work and a dark and engaging plot, this film will you give you food for thought for days to come, and hopefully will bring the spotlight a bit more towards foreign language films. I think that it is a no-brainer for snatching the Best Achievement in Cinematography award, and ending Leviathan’s reign of getting all the foreign film awards.