DVD Review: Ida

STUDIO: Music Box | DIRECTOR: Pawel Pawlikowski | CAST: Agata Trzebuchowska, Agata Kulesza, Dawid Ogrodnik, Jerzy Trela, Adam Szyszkowski
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 9/23/2014 | PRICE: DVD $29.95, Blu-ray $34.95
BONUSES: Behind-the-scenes footage, featurette, Q & A with director
SPECS: PG-13 | 80 min. | Foreign language drama | 1.37:1 widescreen | Polish with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes):
Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Pawel Pawlikowski’s 2013 film Ida is beautiful. It’s beautifully shot, and beautifully told, a classically looking, Polish period piece that feels like it was actually made back in the 60’s era that the story takes place in.

Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a young nun, just about to take her lifetime vows, when she discovers she’s not the unknown orphan she thought she was; an aunt of hers has been located. Anna visits Auntie Wanda (Agata Kulesza), learns she’s actually a Jew named Ida, and is told about the grisly death of her parents by the Pole who murdered them during the Nazi regime. Her aunt, a hardcore Communist prosecutor jaded by her harsh life, delights in shaking up Ida’s clean, religious world, but struggles daily with the pain of her Jewish history and her own guilt as an extension of Stalin’s regime. Their time together is a brief respite from their daily routines, but one that changes them both irrevocably.

Ida movie scene

Agata Trzebuchowska (r.) and Agata Kulesza in Ida.

Pawlikowski’s universe is all about throwing you for a loop. His beautifully composed, impeccably shot black­-and­-white world serves as a contrast to the constant subtle surprises his characters pull. His non­judgmental style gives you just enough information to fill in the gaps, forcing you to accept these people on their own terms rather than by your preconceptions. Both Ida and Wanda are, in one sense, products of their environment (whether it be Catholicism or Communism) but also live their life quite clearly on their own terms, defying both the viewer and their society’s expectations. The end is impossible to guess, not because it’s a clever whodunit twist, but because the simple story, like its characters, also unspools on its own terms. By the end, you love these women, understand them, and accept them.

In an age of digital downloads, the Ida DVD is one worth picking up. Not only for the insightful essays and gorgeous photos that accompany the booklet, but for the extras, which are few in number but quite useful. The behind­-the­-scenes is fairly typical, but provides a nice insight into the crew’s working methods. The director Q&A and interviews, however, reveal plenty of tidbits that bring you a deeper appreciation for Pawlikowski’s artistry. The final film bears little resemblance to the original script, with lots of changes on set­ a fascinating fact for a movie that seems so meticulously constructed. Agata K. is a seasoned actress, one of Poland’s best­ but Agata T. is not an actress at all; Pawlikowski just saw her in a café and knew she was the one—a testament to the old maxim “a picture’s worth a thousand words.” The two women’s wildly different working methods could have clashed, but instead complemented each other perfectly on screen, and the young Agata held her own against the seasoned vet.

Pawilkowski seems to make most of his creative decisions from the gut, whether they be his choice to shoot in a 4:3 aspect ratio (he wanted to show you less, not more of the action with his narrow frame, and it works incredibly well) or the story of the young camera operator who took over the DP chores after the first day of shooting, much to the chagrin of a crusty old crew. Really? This no-name kid shot that whole movie? The one where half the scenes were unplanned? The fact that such a seemingly­ controlled film came out of such wild, ballsy filmmaking is just damn impressive—and makes the veteran but lesser-known filmmaker Pawlikowski worthy keeping an eye on.

 

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About Memo

Memo Salazar attempts many things and accomplishes few. His big three are making films, music, and comics, but he'll throw photography, graphic design and film criticism into the ring for good measure. He'll even make you a hand-painted t-shirt if you ask nicely. You can track his activity here when there's nothing else to do at work.