Quietly profound, calculatingly beautiful - Ida is a technical masterpiece in every sense of the word. The entire piece is series of mesmeric images - each frame equates to a detailed, striking painting that we almost fall into. The absence of moving shots is a revolutionary concept: director Pawel Pawlikowsi rewrites the rules of filmmaking. The subjects are hardly ever to be found in the centre of the shot, but rather in a bottom corner - shadowed suitably by stunning surroundings. Our wandering eyes are drawn to each crevice, every shadow and shade in every still, waiting vision. The sublime, flawless creation of Ida haunts its audience. This Polish feature reminds us of the static obscuring the delights and power of simple filmmaking. It is a considerable adverse to contemporary cinema - shot entirely in black and white with a minimalist script, a 4:3 aspect ratio (forget widescreen, this is the return of black bars) and only one motion shot - the final sequence.
Before taking her vows, Anna - a young novice nun brought up in a Polish convent in the 1960s is ordered to become acquainted with her aunt. Wanda is the young orphan's only living relative and the soul keeper of the secrets to Anna's origins. She and Wanda depart on a odyssey, a road trip of sorts where it becomes clear that whilst Anna hopes for knowledge - Wanda is searching only for confirmation to a dark and sinful truth.
Ida is a film promoting quiet prowess, understated elegance - a feature with so potent and unexpected a story arc that it demands a re-watch almost immediately upon its conclusion. Watching Ida can only be characterised as something of a rewarding experience. You wonder incessantly about where the story could possibly be going and when it finally reaches it - that feeling of torment, that gut-wrenching blow is almost indescribable. Each word, each sentence uttered is given incredible weight due to the general sparseness of dialogue. As an audience, you cling onto everything that you hear. All of this executed, displayed with such a distinctive level of artistry and restraint.
With everything stripped away - it suddenly dawns on a modern generation that colour, CGI, all manner of choreography are simply disposable, extraneous distractors to elemental storytelling. Because even without elaborate set designs and computer manipulation, what is featured in every shot you see is impeccable imaging. There exists a level of technical filmmaking that could one could barely believe was not achieved by a team of proficient photographers. Lighting is core to black and white filmmaking and its movement is so cleanly orchestrated in Ida that each shot belongs in a gallery.
The musical flourishes are sweet, dramatic proclamations - a simple piano tune that rises and falls as the story progresses but is never relied on solely to evoke human emotion. No, this task is left uncontrovertibly to the rich content of the story we are presented with. Interludes of jazz music descend upon the film at times, the reality of this world demonstrated to be far removed from what Anna is accustomed to.
Agata Trzebuchowska's representation of Ida or Anna speaks volumes about her ready talent. Her graceful, untarnished performance proves a worthy, rather intriguing contrast to the worldly, persistent cynicism of Agata Kulesza's characterisation as Ida's aunt. The soul and affliction of Wanda is considerably more readable than that of Ida's but sympathy from the audience pours generously to both characters.
Ida is bleak and grim - telling a tale of the broken histories that define us today. It is as much concerned with the morose past of a nation as it is with deeply personal histories. This is a film to relish, to cherish. A feature as simultaneously simple yet masterful as Ida comes around but once a decade. As the story of Ida continues to compel you, haunt you and provoke you into submission, it is only a matter of time before you come to acknowledge its singularity, distinction and artful allure.