(PG-13) Shot in glorious black-and-white and in Academy aspect ratio (1.33:1), Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski's latest movie Ida is an extraordinary experience, austere, beautiful and unforgettable. It's the story of an initiate nun, played by Agata Trzebuchowska, living in a Polish convent in the Communist-era 1960s, who is about to take her vows. Ida discovers from her aunt, Wanda (Agata Kulesza), that she was born Jewish, and the two then embark on a strange road trip about personal discovery and familial revelations.
Pawlikowski has been based in the U.K., and his previous movies, particularly Last Resort and My Summer of Love, were based in England and though personal were not as personal as Ida, which feels like his most personal movie and the most connected to his past. Although Ida on the surface feels like an endurance test, it's not. The movie is beautifully shot by cinematographers Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal, hearkening back to Bergman, Bresson and Polanski, yet cinematically always engaging even though the narrative is not always forward-based, as in mainstream movies.
Ida is thoroughly an art-house movie, but the patient viewer will find more than enough to explore here. Actresses Trzebuchowska and Kulesza give nuanced, quietly brilliant performances. The contrast between their characters and their acting styles leads to a lot of Ida's brilliance and speaks volumes to Pawlikowski's ability to guide it all. But what also makes Ida unforgettable is how Pawlikowski trusts his audience to burrow in and embed ourselves into the narrative, figuring out the plot as it enigmatically unfolds. This is a small, modest movie, but its secrets are emotionally intense and transfixing throughout the short 80-minute running time.
Yes, Ida will be a challenge for some viewers. If you don't like drawn-out movies (not as extreme as Bela Tarr however), this one will make you squirm. But for those who seek out authentic cinema with characters who are rough and uncertain about their stations in the world, characters who seem drawn from everyday life, Ida may reveal wonders to you.