Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Orphan

Paweł Pawlikowski's Ida is my kind of film: spare, understated, sensitively directed, small in scope but firmly anchored in its time and place, which in this case means Poland in the early 1960s. Sumptuously shot in black-and-white in a narrow-screen format, it's very much a movie to be looked at, the way one looks at still photographs, supplying one's own active eye and interpretation, and not just something to be watched, the way one witnesses a spectacle that's been programmed to hit all the right emotional buttons at the predetermined moments.

The lead character — she's called Anna, a Catholic novice, but she learns that she's really Ida, the daughter of murdered Jews — actually has relatively little to say, usually no more than a few words per scene, and her face betrays little of what's going on inside her head, but she is, in the end, not only the ostensible protagonist of the movie but its audience as well, the one whose fate it is to experience the unfolding of a story that, even as it is about her, is fundamentally not of her own devising. Which is not to suggest that Ida is without a visceral punch. There's something in fact very Greek about it, not so much in the events as in the suddenness and starkness of its emotions, the way the characters — the young novice aside — respond in almost stylized fashion to the revelation of long-hidden secrets, as if purging the collective sins of an entire community.

The trailer below gives an idea of the storyline and the film's beautiful visual style, though inevitably it can't capture its graceful pacing. Stuart Klawans, at the Nation, has a comprehensive and thoughtful review that nicely encapsulates its virtues and ambiguities. I think this is a movie you should see.

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