Ida is a film that has a lot going for it – it is a picturesque piece of filmmaking, with some amazing cinematography. It has two very impressive lead performances. It makes great use of black-and-white photography, and it is quite a unique film. However, Ida is a film that suffers from the same symptom as Son of Saul – overhype, the idea that this film is some kind of untouchable masterpiece, and when it actually is seen, it is a bit underwhelming. Well it isn’t a bad film at all, I’d say the best thing that Ida has going for it is that it is short.
Ida is about the titular character (Agata Trzebuchowska), also known as Anna, a young nun in Poland in the 1960s that is sent to spend time with her last remaining relative, her aunt, Wanda (Agata Kulesza) before Ida takes her vow. What Ida (who by this point thinks her name is Anna) doesn’t know is that she is actually Jewish, and her parents died during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Ida and Wanda go on a journey to try and find out what happened to Ida’s parents, and they descend into a world where their pasts are displayed in a manner that is saddening and revelatory. There isn’t much more to this story – it has a simplicity that often works for it, but most of the time, it just falls a bit flat.
It is difficult to criticize Ida, because this is not a tremendously great film. I wouldn’t say that it is bad, either – rather, it is a bit of a misfire. It just doesn’t reach the apex of brilliance that its reputation suggested it would. There are various reasons for this – but I will just clarify that Ida is still a remarkable film, for one reason in particular, which I will get to soon enough. Understand that this is not a film that is bad in any way – for a film to be truly bad or mediocre, it needs to have done something that could have been done far better. Ida is a film that delivered what it promised – it just really didn’t deliver it in a way that I thought it would.
I will be blunt and say exactly why I didn’t quite enjoy Ida as much as I thought (or hoped) I would – it has very little going for it in terms of the narrative. I am reluctant to call any film boring, because that indicates some level of ignorance. Yet Ida was a film that constantly forced my attention away from the screen, rather than towards it. It isn’t a very interesting film at all – it may have a story that will interest quite a few people, but the narrative is just so dull and lifeless, it reflects on the film as a whole. Honestly, Ida is a film that may have a good soul, but it is almost entirely devoid of life. It is far too minimalistic for its own good, and while I absolutely celebrate minimalism in cinema, Ida takes it a tad too far, and it resorts to some tedious moments, which just made viewing this film slightly unpleasant.
Ida is not a complex film, and I understood the intentions behind it – but the combination of its very brief running time, and very scanty plot, made this a film that is very difficult to talk about, both the good and the bad. There is very little about this film to criticize or praise. It simply just exists, and while I do see it as a good film in a few ways, I do think it is a bit of a monotonous chore at times, and the presence of some inspired aspects do not atone for the complete lack of narrative interest within this film. However, having said that, there are two aspects of Ida that I do want to praise:
First of all, the two lead performances were very good. They weren’t powerhouse performances, and they won’t instantly memorable, but both Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza give very good performances that are worthy of a far more interesting film. Trzebuchowska, playing the title role, is quietely defiant and stunning in her stoic but curious character. Kulesza is dryly humorous and good-natured, but also an insightful and interesting individual in this film. Both actresses play off each other remarkably well and manage to tell this story as best they could. While neither give performances that the ages will undoubtedly remember, it is still certain that they both give dedicated, committed performances.
The major aspect of Ida that deserves unconditional praise is the visual aesthetic. Honestly, Ida might be a bit of a dull film, but the way it looks is far from boring. It has some truly stunning cinematography and settings that give this film a distinctive appearance that is unsettling and welcoming, simulataneously. Łukasz Żal and Ryszard Lenczewski enter into the canon of all-time greats with their cinematography for this film. In a way, I feel like Ida serves the purpose of just being a showcase for what can be done with cinematography today. It retains the look of films from a past era, and it shook me with its beauty – and in a way, I feel like a lot of what went wrong with the narrative can be salvaged with how utterly exquisite this film is. However, it is pointless to have a film that is so beautiful to look at when your narrative is just too dull for the audience to care to become invested. It is a cold film, and the fact that it is set in snowy landscapes has nothing to do with that.
I really wish I could say more about Ida. I am not sure if a longer run-time would’ve helped it, because maybe what this film needed was a boost of characterization and development of the central story. At 82 minutes, this is an extraordinarily brief film, especially for an art-film with this kind of story. It is a very simple film, but to the extent of being slightly dreary, and despite some truly magnificent filmmaking, the story is just not interesting enough. This film will certainly alienate a lot of people, so be prepared – you may be moved by this film, but only seek it out if you have the endurance – the pace is slow, the story is simple and it requires far too much work to catch your attention. It is a film that is certainly a piece of art, but rather one admires rather than enjoys. It isn’t a bad film, it just felt a bit too cold and distant for me to fully appreciate it and get invested in it. Yet, it is still certainly worth seeking out for the cinematography, which is this film’s only saving grace. I did like it, strangely enough – just not as much as I was hoping.