Poland’s submission for best foreign film does feel foreign, and not just because of the subtitles.
Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a young girl who’s lived in an orphanage since the war. Just as she is about to take vows to become a Catholic nun, she discovers she is Jewish, and sets out with her only known living relative, aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), to find out what happened to her parents.
This film is starkly shot in black and white, with the weirdest framing I’ve ever seen. Shots are obscured by door frames. Long, static shots feature two talking heads at the very bottom of the screen while a vast emptiness dominates the rest, reminding me of a certain austerity that I guess is fitting for the 1960s Polish setting, but is jarring nonetheless.A burden on their shoulders?
There is stillness to this movie, and quite a bit of quiet. It’s stark. It’s bleak. And it may also be read as the world’s weirdest road trip movie. I didn’t really pick up on this until a minor character in the film calls them an “odd couple” and I suppose they are. It’s just that their mourning and anger sap any of the fun usually found on the open road.
The Agata who played Wanda was very good. The role itself is very good, meaty, interesting, frustrating. She is Poland, with all the guilt, the betrayal, the hurt, and the redemption that comes with it. She says more with a well-timed puff of her cigarette than with the sparse dialogue. The other Agata is less revealing. Her face is blank, often staring, often empty. It’s hard to know where this character is going, and it’s hard to attach to her. I’m trying not to fault the movie for having made me work so hard just to watch it, but it is a difficult one and I did struggle.
I suppose director Pawel Pawlikowski is asking us what to do with this history, once (re)discovered. I’m just not sure I came away with the answer.