Review: ‘Ida’ is a mordant and detached film about Holocaust trauma

Agata Trzebuchowska (center) plays a nun who discovers she's Jewish in the Polish drama "Ida." Credit: Music Box Films
Agata Trzebuchowska (center) plays a nun who discovers she’s Jewish in the Polish drama “Ida.”
Credit: Music Box Films

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Stars: Agata Trzebuchowska, Agata Kulesza
Rating: PG-13
4 (out of 5) Globes

“Ida” is a Holocaust movie, albeit one that never shows the events and only explicitly mentions it a handful of times. Among the genre, it’s one of the most unique and the most mordant, which is not to say it doesn’t take the subject seriously. It concerns the way trauma survives, resting in the undercurrents of society, persisting no matter how much people try to ignore it — or, for that matter, confront it.

The characters in “Ida” do both. It’s 1960 Poland, and a young, pretty nun (Agata Trzebuchowska) orphaned by WWII finally has the chance to meet her only relative. Through Wanda (Agata Kulesza), a boozing former prosecutor and her aunt, she discovers a few key things: Her name’s not Mary but Ida, and her parents, murdered during the Nazi occupation, were Jewish. This odd couple hit the road to find their grave, during which Ida gets exposed to the things from which her cloistered existence has shielded her: sex, drinks, cigarettes and John Coltrane. Whether or not she’ll come to like them is another story.

But not so fast: This isn’t some heartwarming film about self-discovery. In fact, the lessons they learn, though few, don’t usually stick or wind up steering the plot in unexpected directions. The main story is even resolved much earlier than expected, leading to a dodgy but ultimately daring final act. Throughout, the tone is perched somewhere between miserable Wanda and remote Ida, who have two very different ways of keeping humanity at arm’s length. All the warmth is either elided or toned down so that the film feels deadpan, if not outright muted.

This a clipped and strident film, told in a highly stylized manner that mimics the European art films of the period. Co-writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski — back home after English-language films like “My Summer of Love” — shoots in not only black-and-white but in the old box-shaped academy ratio of the period. It looks like one of Milos Forman’s old Czech films, like “Loves of a Blonde,” though its tone is even more “modern,” more cranky, more distant. Pawlikowski likes to frame his shots with his characters placed in unusual positions — at the bottom, off to the side, buried in a long shot — anything to match the detachment its characters struggle to maintain, even as they deal with humanity at its worst.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge


Mutant worms stay sober, even on alcohol

U.S. researchers have developed "mutant worms" that do not get drunk by alcohol, a breakthrough that could lead to new treatment for people trying to quit drinking


K-9 nose helps capture $150K in cocaine at…

A furry, four-legged security agent helped authorities stop an illegal cocaine shipment from sneaking past JFK customs.


Minnesota man asked to leave Southwest flight after…

A man and his two sons were asked to leave a Southwest Airlines flight after the man sent a tweet complaining about being treated rudely by a gate agent.


Man sues hospital after surprise penis amputation

An Alabama man who went in to a hospital last month for a circumcision awoke after surgery to find his penis had been amputated, his lawyer said on Thursday.


Review: Brett Ratner's big 'Hercules' movie is small…

The latest "Hercules," starring Dwayne Johnson as the half-god beefcake of Greek myth, strips its hero and tale of most of its fantastical elements.


Scientists recreate world's smallest Monet copy

Scientists have reproduced a famous Impressionist painting using nano-printing, to create what has been described as the world's smallest work of art. Reworked at the…


Jerry Seinfeld is ambidextrous, and other Reddit AMA…

See some of the weirder highlights of Jerry Seinfeld's recent Reddit AMA.

Going Out

Grab a pedestrian and start dancing at What…

As a New Yorker, I’ve mastered the art of focusing my gaze straight ahead. Though it occasionally piques my interest, the absurdities that play out…


2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player…

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player rankings

U.S. Soccer

NYCFC announce signing of Frank Lampard

The tease of a big signing Thursday by new MLS side NYCFC ended up being one rumored for weeks. England midfielder Frank Lampard agreed to…


NBA great LeBron James sends 800 cupcake apologies…

By Kim PalmerCLEVELAND (Reuters) - NBA star LeBron James, whose recent return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in his home state of Ohio sparked a frenzy…


Jerry Reese confident with Giants, skipping countdown clocks…

Last year, Giants GM Jerry Reese installed a countdown clock in the locker room to inspire Big Blue to play in their own stadium for Super Bowl XLVIII.


Forget Wi-Fi: Li-Fi could be the future

Li-Fi technology – developed by Mexican company Sisoft – is wireless internet connectivity using specialized LED light.


Weather app Climendo might be the most accurate…

The wait for a truly accurate weather forecast could finally be over thanks to a nifty new app called Climendo.


Napkin Table puts focus off the phone and…

Michael Jan, a design student at Tunghai University in Taiwan, has invented a serviette-picnic blanket hybrid called the Napkin Table.


Essie's new Color Boutique

Essie launches high-tech kiosks at major airports and malls across the country.