Greetings again from the darkness. Writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski (My Summer of Love, 2004) films in his homeland of Poland (set in 1962) and presents a familiar topic from a most unusual perspective. This film has been very well received on the festival circuit and it’s easy to see why: it’s beautifully photographed, very well acted, includes terrific music and presents an emotional story for thoughtful viewers.
We first meet Anna as a novitiate nun on the verge of taking her vows. Her Mother Superior has one requirement: Anna must visit her lone surviving relative. Her Aunt Wanda is everything Anna is not: worldly, cynical, direct. In the first few minutes of their visit, Wanda (Agata Kulesza) informs Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) that though she is a nun-to-be, she was born Jewish with the name Ida, and she was sent to a Catholic orphanage when her parents were killed.
After this bombshell, the two set out on a journey to discover the truth and trace their family roots. It’s a journey of discovery not just for Ida, but also for Wanda, who carries her own burden. Questioning one’s faith and one’s true identity is nothing new, but this makes for quite an unusual buddy road trip. Wanda is rarely without a drink in hand and Ida has had no previous exposure to the real world outside the convent.
This is the debut of Agata Trzebuchowska and her porcelain look and big eyes convey a quality with which we find ourselves comfortable with, while Ms. Kulesza evokes empathy from the viewer despite her harsh edge and beaten down outlook on life and people. Hers is a standout performance.
Two exceptional pieces of music are used to perfection: Coltraine’s “Naima” and Mozart’s “Jupiter” symphony. The storytelling and look of the film might be austere (stunning black and white photography) but this music hits us hard in two separate scenes. For those who appreciate dramatic art films, this is one to see .
**NOTE: there is an appearance from real life singer Joanna Kulig
watch the trailer: