Saturday, 1 November 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Ida

Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski

Screenplay by: Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Pawel Pawlikowski

Starring: Agata Trzebuchowska
Agata Kulesza

Music by: Kristian Eidnes Andersen

Cinematography by: Lukasz Zal
Ryszard Lenczewski

Editing by: Jaroslaw Kaminski

Release date(s): August 30, 2013 (Telluride Film Festival, premiere)
October 25, 2013 (Poland)
May 2, 2014 (United States)
September 26, 2014 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 80 minutes

Country(s): Poland

Language: Polish

Production budget: N/A

Box-office revenue (as of publication, United States only): $3, 704, 612

Hey, what do you know, I'm Mr. Prolific this month! With my review for The Equalizer there, I have clocked nine reviews over the course of the month, and that extends to just my activities as regards to analysing movies. I've been the proverbial busy little bee, and as for following this review, I've got ones for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Gone Girl guaranteed in the works. I had a lot to catch up on, so to be only two movies back as opposed to six or seven is a nice feeling that takes a lot of the weight off of your shoulders. So, for all the latest and greatest on the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is Ida, a Polish film by director Pawel Pawlikowski, which has been slowly developing buzz on the festival and independent film circuit over the past year. After premiering at the 38th Gdynia Film Festival in Poland, it has since went on to play the Toronto International Film Festival (where it won the FIPRESCI prize in the Special Presentations section), took the Best Film award at the Warsaw Film Festival, BFI London Film Festival, Listapad in Minsk, Belarus, Gijon, and at The Eagles, the Polish Film Awards ceremony which is comparable in the Polish film industry to the Academy Awards. Speaking of which, Poland have selected it as their official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film award at the upcoming 87th Academy Awards, and out of eighty-three potentially nominees being whittled down to five, I see Ida having a good chance of getting there when it comes to the Academy making their decisions. Not having seen the most of these films but judging by the climate, if you'll indulge I'd like to make an early prediction for the prospective nominees in this category:

Belgium, for Two Days, One Night - Dardenne Brothers film starring Marion Cotillard: directed by twice Palme d'Or-winning filmmakers, features past Oscar-winner in lead role.

Canada, for Mommy - Xavier Dolan: fifth film by actor, writer, directing prodigy, who was also a past prospective Oscar nominee.

Poland, for Ida - Pawel Pawlikowski: has garnered a lot of buzz in independent, festival and critical circuits.

Russia, for Leviathan - Andrey Zvyagintsev: past Golden Lion winner, highly acclaimed film.

Turkey, for Winter Sleep - Nuri Bilge Ceylan: winner of this year's Palme d'Or, regarded as the masterpiece of a widely acclaimed director.

If I was to bet a winner out of that bunch, I'd probably go with Two Days, One Night or Winter Sleep, but hey, knowing my luck, it'll all probably go up in smoke. Anywho, enough of all that blabbing, let's get down to business, that business being a plot synopsis: in Poland during the 1960s, Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a young nun who is told by her prioress that before taking her vows she must visit her family. Travelling to her aunt Wanda Gruz (Agata Kulesza), a heavy-drinking judge and former prosecutor associated with Stalinist regime, the aunt reveals to Anna that her real name is Ida Lebenstein, the daughter of Jewish parents who were murdered during the Second World War. Deciding she wants to find their resting place, Ida and Wanda set out on a journey, to use a cliched term, which may or may not also reveal certain truths and secrets regarding their lives. Shall we dance?

To start off with the good, it's fronted by the twin peaks of two tremendous central performances by the Agata's Trzebuchowska and Kulesza. The way in which the characters have been written is that they operate as diametric opposites, but really are in fact two sides of the same coin. Trzebuchowska gives a subtly complex turn as Ida, managing to have both a beautifully innocent naivety about the world and yet a wisdom beyond her years. The same complexity can be said for Kulesza's, although it couldn't be described as subtle. She is the more expressive, emotional and even at times boorish of the two, and Kulesza does a terrific job of convincing us that for all of her advanced years on Ida, Wanda is really the troublemaker of the two. Similar to the work of the Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux in last year's Blue Is The Warmest Colour, the two performances are individually works of great quality, but together back up and accentuate each other. In that regard, as a film this is first and foremost a character drama about people, and in that regard I have to give praise to the screenplay by director Pawlikowski and Rebecca Lenkiewicz. There is a textured level of development in Ida and Wanda which is lacking in many other films, so much so that it can't help but be refreshing. Also, the dialogue has a rich quality to it, walking a fine line between being very conversational and deeply profound. At times, the film in essence is like an unconventional buddy film, being surprisingly funny in parts, but also revelatory in terms of the explorations of human nature, behaviour and spirit. The film is also features some stunning black-and-white photography from Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski. Rightfully winning the Spotlight Award at the 2013 American Society Of Cinematographers Awards, Zal and Lenczewski employ a lot of long takes, both moving and static, to depict the naturalistic and meditative tone of the film. Not only is that a smart idea from the aesthetic side of things, but it's also tastefully done so that it never becomes a gimmick. Once again, the Arri Alexa crops it's head up, showing the true versatility of that camera. Zal and Lenszewski's close-ups make faces like landscapes, allowing actors to ply their craft, and their framing is immaculate. Certain things are excised from our view, and yet are able to fully interpret their weight to the story and the characters. Also, there are shots, such one where Ida is framed at the top of a staircase in a small hotel, listening to a jazz band playing on the bottom floor: will the saint descend from the heavens towards temptations and decadence below? Decisions such as this make Ida a very distinctive film from director Pawel Pawlikowski. As far as a piece of auteurist cinema, this reminded me a lot of the kind of film Ingmar Bergman would have made in the early-1960s like The Silence or Winter Light, when he was churning out great films which had a strong thematic content, rich characters, most importantly, were highly accessible films. Ida has all of those traits, and those are qualities that should be attributed Pawlikowski. This is an assured, confident piece of work, and at the brisk running time of eighty minutes, we are left with a lot of food for thought by the time the credits roll.

Now, as you can tell, I was a big fan of Ida, and I would be lying if I didn't say it was a great film. However, I do have to state that I do have a few reasons as to why I think it is a great film and not an outright masterpiece. I made a point in mentioning The Silence and Winter Light as regards to Bergman because during that period of activity, Bergman released consistently great movies, but not all of them are masterpieces. In a fifteen-year span (1957-1972), he released eighteen movies, of which I have seen eleven, and five of them are masterpieces (The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, The Virgin Spring, Shame and Cries And Whispers). Long story short, it's very rare for even an artist such as Bergman to make consistent outright masterpieces (only Kraftwerk with the five-album span from 1974-1981 with Autobahn to Computer World achieved that!), and Pawel Pawlikowski's Ida is of the same vein. Also, while the whole story is done rather well, especially the exploration of the central characters, but the crux, the central driving force concerning Jews who have been murdered during Second World War, has been the subject of so many artistic works in the years since. As such, while it's obviously sensitive material, in the same way as the recent movies concerning slavery, I feel that this has been done before and that I didn't learn anything new or come to another kind of enlightenment on the subject matter. To me, it felt like a plot device to explore the thematic content brought to the table by the pairing of the two central characters, and to me, the Holocaust should not feel like a plot device.

That said, while I do not feel like Ida has that extra level of profundity, it's sensitive topic matter has been done before and that it feels unfortunately like a plot device, I will not deny that Ida is a great film, certainly one of the best of the year, and I would be surprised if it didn't remain in my top ten come awards season. The two central performances by the Agata's Trzebuchowska and Kulesza are tremendous, two sides of the coin which become greater with the presence of the other, the screenplay giving the actresses richly developed characters and an abundance of rich dialogue which straddles the line between conversational and profundity. The beautiful black-and-white cinematography by Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski on the Arri Alexa is a highlight, poetic, suggestive and tastefully done so that it never becomes a gimmick, and director Pawel Pawlikowski has a clear and assured artistic direction with this brisk, accessible and engaging movie. When I mentioned Ingmar Bergman in relation to this film, believe me, that's high praise coming from my good self!

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - AP (autopilot: I've got work as well later!)

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