When I read the main critics’ top ten film lists at the end of the year I sometimes find it frustrating that many of the movies included are obscure foreign pictures that most people haven’t heard of. For me those lists aren’t about being introduced to little known gems I may have missed, there are about agreeing or disagreeing with the choices and how can I do that if I’ve not seen half of the selection.
The fact is though, if you see most of the films released in cinemas, as the critics clearly do, then many of the best ones are not in English. Just because the foreign language films are not often picked up by the multiplexes, that is no reason for the cineastes to ignore them too. It is down to the public to search them out.
Thankfully this is now easy due to Curzon Cinemas’ excellent film on demand service. My own top ten list this year is likely to include French movie The Past, the Belgian Dardenne brothers’ Two Days, One Night and this film by Polish born director Pawel Pawlikowski, all of them viewed via the Curzon website while they were also showing in cinemas.
While I would urge you all to part with £10 of your money and eighty minutes of your time to watch Ida at home then, I do have to say I really wish I’d seen this one on the big screen. See it at the cinema if you get the chance because this movie is stunningly beautiful.
Every single frame of Ida is so meticulously put together that you could take a series of still shots from the film and present them as a photography exhibition. The whole movie is captured in sharp monochrome and this adds to the artistry further, more so in fact than with other modern black and white films like Much Ado About Nothing, Nebraska, The Artist or even Schindler’s List.
The limited colour palette also suits the stripped down story. On the face of it the narrative is quite straight forward but there is a tremendous amount going on beyond what you see played out. Ida tells the tale of a young woman in early 60s Poland. Orphaned as a child, she has been raised in a nunnery and is on the brink of taking her monastic vows and committing to a life of purity and contemplation.
Before she does so she is encouraged by her reverent mother to go and find out what she can about her real mother. She goes to meet her only living relative, a brusk aunt, and together they set out to discover what happened to their family. One of the women is learning of her past while facing up to her future and the other is facing up to her past which in turn clarifies the rest of her life. There are absolutely no histrionics but their realisations are seismic.
Beautiful visuals alone would not be enough to carry the film, even across its brief running time, but the ladies’ story is hugely engaging, looking past them to a nation still recovering from war and the ramifications of nationality and identity. You are quickly drawn in by the pretty images but you’ll be gripped by the events they show. Ultimately what makes Ida more than just a series of images is the same as what always separates all film from photographs; it’s moving.
Is this one for the kids?
Ida is rated 12A but if anyone is reluctant to watch a foreign language film then it’s your average tweenager. The film does deal with adult themes of war, loss and sexuality but there is nothing very graphic.
The Ripley Factor:
This is interesting. You could argue that the titular protagonist is repressed but it is by a matriarchy not by chauvinism.
Ida is very much a woman’s story and the central duo are both taking control of their circumstances and finding a sense of who they are in a male dominated society that is still reeling from a male dominated war. There is definitely a strong feminist theme.
Personally I think Ida is a masterpiece and while that would normally have me going on and on, here I want the artistry to speak for itself: