The trailer for ‘Ida’ had me hooked immediately. The glassy cinematography, the sullen stares, the instant mood, the subtitles! This looked like it was going to be right up my alley. I prayed that it come to a theater near me, but that never happens. The reviews started to pour in and Oscar buzz was made and every critic was salivating over the film like it was some truly remarkable character study. The prose was so rich with purpose, so rich with promise. Finally, I got my hands on this film and rushed to get it into my DVD player.
And then nothing happened.
No, the DVD worked and the movie played, but, like, nothing happened…at all.
I’m all for art house cinema, and I’m all for a film that relies more on feeling than telling, but there was nothing to really be told here and the climax was so ridiculous in composition that it really made this not only a confused film, but a dumb one. For a film that is not even an hour and a half long, this felt like an eternity, an eternity of staring at someone staring back at me, with no real depth (at least not when Agata Kulesza wasn’t on the screen). I tried so hard to care, to find the deeper meaning, to find the place where the soul of this film resided, and then the ending came and completely derailed (out of the blue, I might add) any sort of character it had built and basically left us with a ridiculous attempt at ‘telling us something’ without saying anything at all.
This was like Pawel Pawlikowski (the writer/director of this ‘film’) watched the masterworks of Ingmar Bergman, digested all of the depth and just crapped out the elongated scenes and blank expressions that just do not work without the context.
‘Ida’ has no context.
Like I said, the premise is one rich in promise. Anna is a young nun about to take her vows when she is told she must see Wanda, her only living relative, before she can proceed. Anna, an orphan, was brought up in the convent and is not privy to her past. When she meets Wanda she is informed of an atrocity that befell her family, a terrible tragedy that will shape the rest of her life. This story really should have been engrossing, but it is so poorly conveyed that it winds up being miserably dull.
And then there is Agata Kulesza. As Wanda, she evokes such internal turmoil, and when the tragedy is revealed, it is her reaction to, and subsequent derailing that brings the film’s only saving grace (you know, other than the stunning photography). She completely melts into the film, taking the film’s obvious tone and atmosphere and actually doing something with it. Her stares MEAN something. What helps is that she actually does more than that, though. Where the film’s lead, Agata Trzebuchowska, isn’t really given anything to do but look off and ‘contemplate’ (and then give us a ridiculous character arc in the last twenty minutes), Kulesza’s performance bleeds out a deeper element to this film. I only wish that it had been her story that remained the focus, because every time she left the screen I was aching for her to return.
Overall, I can’t even like this movie, despite such a richly handled performance from Kulesza. It had so much potential, but it was squandered in a lackluster development and a preposterous climax that left the film confused and ineffective.
Better to have gutted out any of Trzebuchowska’s scenes without Kulesza, changed the name of the film to ‘Wanda’ and submitted it as a short film. Now THAT would have been worth watching (and rooting for come Oscar night). If this wins the Oscar, it’ll be a shame.
I'd give this an F, but the redeeming features are enough to warrant a D, I suppose. This is probably Oscar bound, at least in the form of a nomination. I hope this doesn't win, but I'm not getting my hopes up that high. Apparently, other people love this.