idaIda is a hard sell. It’s in black and white! It’s Polish, with subtitles! It’s about a nun!

Despite almost universally glowing praise, and a clutch of reviews, I don’t think there is much I could say to persuade some people to see this film. Whilst it is a film with a lot to admire, it’s also one which has been massively overrated.

Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska in her debut film performance) is a novice Catholic nun in 1960s Poland, who has been brought up from a baby in the monastery and knows no other life. Instructed by her Mother Superior to meet her family for the first time before taking her vows, she goes to stay with her Aunt Wanda (Agate Kulesza), her only remaining family member. There she discovers her Jewish ancestry and finds out her parents disappeared during the war. She embarks on a trip with her aunt to find out where they were buried.

It is the scenes shared by the naive Ida and the worldly-wise, promiscuous Wanda that most resemble a more mainstream film: a mini road movie in fact. Both actresses are excellent in their roles, especially Kulesza, and their differences help produce some interesting, and at times, amusing moments. The underlying story of the fate of Jews in Poland in the Second World War is a fascinating one, and the direction by Pawel Pawlikowski is appropriately unfussy. Above all else the lauded shot framing and starkly beautiful cinematography by Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal is as good as anything you will see all year.

However, the film does require a lot of patience, as it moves at a very deliberate pace for much of its short 82 minute running time. Also, the last part of the film, showing Ida reconsidering her life choices is by far the weakest section. Her actions are not really believable within the structure of the story and the movie loses a lot of its impact as a result.

Hailed as Pawlikowski’s masterpiece, I don’t think Ida comes all that close to emulating his searing immigration drama The Last Resort made back in 2000.

Rating: 6 out of 10

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