Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski's latest foray into fiction with "Ida" is a gothic character study rife with atmosphere and a matter-of-fact passivity. Filmed in black and white, the trees stand as sable sentinels unable to comment on this deadpan yet tragic drama.
Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a young novice in a Polish convent who immerses herself in martyred parchment. Despite being a young girl, she pathologically submits to her prioress, knocking and twisting herself into messianic positions, she presses on the floor, becoming a human cross, an ecce homo of rigor mortis, just shy of becoming a sainted bas-relief, an organic coin.
Ida is well on her way to being a monochrome pawn on a chessboard of submission.
In order to complete her vows, she is told she must visit her family. On one gray and bitter day that would make David Lynch get out his camera, Ida sets out, trudging expressionlessly. The snow is thick and heavy.
Ida meets her Aunt Wanda who is harsh and pale, resembling a figure from painter Egon Schiele. She tells Ida of her mysterious history, mainly that her parents were murdered during the war. The young and reticent Ida resolves to find the murderer and locate her parents' burial.
The camera moves masterfully through space and the cinematography is first rate. Gradually throughout, Ida is little more than a shadow composed of ceramic, her ambulatory gait making all right angles, full of hesitancy and hunch. As ephemeral as Ida becomes, Wanda is more debauched, her Sharpie-black hair sopped in vodka. Wanda embodies the form of a broken puppet in paper mâché while Ida alternates form as an ivory chess piece or a firefly trapped in glass.
With just a few expressionist touches of black and ivory gray, the director hints at rather than explicitly reveals these scenes that are both foreboding and spacey and appear to hover before us.
The modernization of the cars as they move through a blank and desolate Poland mock Ida's asceticism. She meets a young sax player (Dawid Ogrodnik) and the Byronic curl of his hair teases her with a sensual materialism.
After many hinderances and fits of indecision, the pair meet a bedridden Szymon (Jerzy Trela) but he is frustratingly laconic. By a vague clue, they confront his morose and granite-eyed son (Adam Szyszkowski) who ensconces himself in a hole of soil, sinister and bottomless.
Ida genuflects and walks on.
Midway in the film, the novice sheds her habit, taking on the slutty guise of Wanda and consorting with the musician. Ida's face and voice change into that of a dominatrix. The jolting feeling echoes Roman Polanski's "The Tenant".
While the uncompromising silence and minimalism given with force in "Ida" is surely not for everyone, (with spare dialogue that almost makes for a silent film) Pawlikowski's sorcery by suggestion is akin to hypnotism. Her images rival oil paintings, a series of clerical still lifes, both mystical and phantasmagoric that border the eerie.
When Ida plods away on her own dark road, her face once again blank with a papal polish, is she actively engaged or a mere automaton?
The final gray streak brings a chill, recalling Bergmann and a frosty spritz of Lars von Trier for good measure.
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