Pawel Pawlikowski made the excellent My Summer of Love in 2004, then nothing for several years, until the hugely disappointing Woman In The Fifth. So it's a pleasure to report a return to form with Ida a black and white film set in Poland in the early 1960s.
Ida is a young woman who has live din a convent all her life. Shortly before she is due to take her vows, her Mother Superior calls her to her room, and instructs her to go and meet her aunt of whom she has no recollection. Ida travels to the city where the aunt lives, and finds a woman who drinks, smokes and sleeps with men on a casual basis. In the daytime, she is a judge. The two women are, to say the least, ill-matched, but decide to take a trip together to find out what happened to Ida's parents.
By the way, Ida has discovered for the first time that she is Jewish, and since she was born during the war, it is hardly a surprise that as Jews in Poland, her family was persecuted. But what has happened to their remains? Ida and Wanda (the aunt) travel to the countryside where truths are uncovered, and the two women begin to form some kind of relationship. Ida finds it impossible to give up her sense of vocation and cannot join Wanda in what she considers to be a dissolute life, and we are left to discover what will become of this split in their views of the world.
The film is shot in black and white, and the ratio is square (i.e., not rectangular like most films). Pawlikowski has also chosen to locate his human characters at the very bottom of the frame, an unusual decision which seems to work well. It's simple, beautiful and moving.