Ida ★★★★½

Film: Ida

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski

There were moments during Ida where I smiled until my face hurt, which is unusual to say of such a bleak film. It's not exactly to say that the things that made me smile were inherently good or bad, but rather the fact that they were happening at all. Ida is this year's Oscar contender from Poland for Best Foreign Film, and without having seen the others, I can assuredly say that this at least deserves to be in the race. Anna is a young nun who is about to take her vows. She was brought to the church having being left parentless as an infant. Anna visits an aunt on the advice of the Mother Superior, as this aunt is Anna's only living relative. Upon arrival, we (and Anna) meet Wanda, Anna's brash, chain-smoking, promiscuous aunt, who informs Anna that her real name is Ida, not Anna, and explains that her parents were killed during the war. She also informs Ida that her entry to the convent will make her a Jewish nun, since that is her family heritage. Wanda finds a source that can lead the two to the burial location of Ida's parents, so they set off to meet this person. During their travels, they pick up a male hitchhiker who is on his way to a gig at the same hotel at which the women are staying. The second and third acts bring about more satisfying revelations than I've gotten from a film in a long time. Ida reminded me of another onscreen portrayal of a nun, which is that of Amy Adams in Doubt, but a little less dramatic. Ida has her beliefs and rituals, but she is still human. Wanda's behavior initially upsets her, not because she as a person is repulsed by it, but because she knows she was taught that it is wrong. Her eyes don't judge, they simply see. The camera follows suit. We never feel pressured to react a certain way, and we are left to observe and feel naturally. Some shots here are at angles to which we are unaccustomed. That's okay. They fit this film, and they allow us to see what we need to. Ida learns a lot, and watching her learn these things is the delight of this movie.