Tuesday, February 24, 2015

ida

Two nights ago I watched a Polish movie called "Ida," that I highly recommend.

The movie is opens in the 1960s to a young novice, Ida, who has grown up in the convent always thinking she was an orphan. Then, just as she is about to take her vows to become a nun, she is told by the Mother Superior that she was born Jewish, and that she has one living relative, an aunt who has always refused to have any contact with her. The Mother Superior instructs Ida to go and visit her aunt before she takes her final vows.

The more I think about it, the more I realize "Ida" is one of the most perfect movies I have ever seen. Every single shot of the entire movie is visually gorgeous, and yet, by some kind of film miracle, none of it feels over-thought. Each scene must have been so carefully and intentionally filmed, and yet it doesn't have any of the hyper-self-consciousness that so-called art films often have. The two main characters, Ida and her aunt, are played by Agata Kulesza and Agata Trzubechowska with almost unbelievable understatement, but I don't mean unbelievable in the sense that the characters are not believable; I mean it in the sense that you can barely believe how well the actors have mastered their craft. I can't imagine an American director--or group of actors--ever risking making a movie involving so little facial expression.

It's a serious movie; this is a Poland in which the Holocaust is still fresh in the minds of each character (about which I will say no more, so as not to give anything away). Serious things happen in the movie. Complicated and profoundly tragic things arise. And yet, the respect of the camera, and the respect of the actors for their characters, and the way that the film is careful and intentional and so much the opposite of overwrought, all of it combines to make the movie a safe space. I felt, within the first 15 minutes or so, that the movie was not going to inflict something unbearable on me, as the viewer. And I was right. Somehow a quiet promise was made to the viewer early on, and it was a promise kept. Given the movie's content, I'm stunned at the mastery involved in keeping that promise.

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