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“Ida” (2013) is a black-and-white film with a boxy academy ratio. The film follows a short road trip journey between Ida and her aunt Wanda as they dive into their family history. A girl called Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), a novice nun and an orphan, is about to take her vows. Advised by the Mother Superior before taking the step to vow chastity, poverty and obedience to serve God, she makes a trip to visit her only living relative, Wanda (Agata Kulesza). Wanda tells Anna she is named “Ida” by her parents, and explains her Jewish roots which are previously unknown to the young girl. They set off to find the remains of Ida’s parents and Wanda’s son, who have been killed during the war.
Although the film is completely monochrome, it is “colourful” in an unconventional way. Various shades of greyness are used throughout the film. On the one hand, it symbolises the historical tragedy in post-war Poland in the 50s and 60s and the burden placed upon both characters. On the other hand, it juxtaposes Ida and Wanda. In most parts of the film, Anna is dressed in a traditional novice nun habit with a headdress, which looks light grey and almost white at times in the monochrome film. The makeup on the actress is also minimal. These factors make the doe-eyed Ida look young and pure. Meanwhile, Wanda is consistently in dark clothes, which appear black on the screen. This use of colour helps to contrast both characters against each other by illustrating their differences, as Ida is a devoted and quiet young nun who acts obediently and prays regularly, whereas Wanda is a hedonistic and worldly cynic who indulges in alcohol, smoking and casual sex while encouraging Ida to follow her lifestyle before taking the vows. Wanda’s line, “I’m a slut and you’re a little saint”, certainly encapsulates their differences in one sentence.
The film covers many socio-political issues, such as antisemitism, religion, and war. For instance, Ida’s parents and Wanda’s son are hidden by a Polish family during the war, but are later killed by the family’s son for undisclosed reasons. It is suggested by the director that the reasons may include antisemitism, fear of German prosecution or an attempt to steal the property of the often wealthy Jews. However, these socio-political issues are not examined in a very explicit or in-depth manner, which leaves a lot to be deciphered by the audience.
The film highlights Ida’s transformation throughout and after the trip. She returns to the convent to prepare for the vow after burying her parents’ remains. However, Ida has already changed. She slips out a giggle during a quiet dinner with all the nuns, resulting in their obvious disapproval, which juxtaposes against an early scene shot almost identically where she finishes her dinner in silence with obedience and solemnness. She also notices the sensual bathing of her fellow novice nuns as a result of her developing sexuality, and she stays silent when the others are reciting their prayer. Her wavering faith is apparent in her vocal confession in front of a Jesus statute that she is not ready for the vow. After the suicide of Wanda, she leaves the convent and stays at her flat. She puts on Wanda’s dress, practises walking in heels, and experiences drinking and smoking for the first time. She also has sex with a young man whom she has met previously. However, after the night, Ida puts on her nun attire again and slips out of Wanda’s home. The open ending means the audience would have to decide for Ida’s fate. Does she return to the convent and make her vows, possibly because the hedonistic experience only reaffirms her faith in God? Or, does she leave the life of chastity, poverty and obedience to experience life outside the convent?
“Ida” does not really have any exciting or dramatic climax throughout the film. However, the audience would definitely appreciate the beautiful cinematography, as well as the use of colour and framing. This award winner at the Academy Award, the European Film Academy and the BAFTA is certainly not to be missed.