Ida 2013: Stark Cinematics and why the Ending makes sense

Ida (2013), a Polish film directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, has been regarded as a cinematographic masterpiece due to its carefully framed and composed images. Ida, set in 1962, focuses on the journey of Ida; she is a young woman who is about to take her vows to become a Catholic nun. Her aunt Wanda, a former Communist state prosecutor, finds the truth of what happened to their Jewish family during WWII.

Although the film was created in 2013, it embodies the essence of films produced in the 1960s. It was intentionally shot in the 4:3 aspect ratio as well as in hard-focus black and white. The boxy images are used to create a sense of isolation trapped in the past. They very well remind the audience of other Polish films produced in the 1960s. Furthermore, in Ida, the camera itself maintains a contemplative distance from the world portrayed in the film.

The interesting storytelling of Ida (2013)

Stills from Ida 2013
Stills from Ida 2013

Ida (2013) is an interesting little film that feels more like something out of the time period that it depicts, rather than something conceived in contemporary times. This is the first Polish film I’ve seen, but this feels a lot like a Bergman film coming out of the ’60s. Exactly not so, but it’s similar in the way with its black and white hue which an almost exclusively stationary camera depicts. With striking compositions, it examines a woman’s faith. It’s quite a worthwhile watch, though puzzling in some aspects.

It is a film that moves audiences in strange ways. It has a strange way of editing around major events, and everything is done in a very still, quiet, and understated way. A single glance seems to hold great power. When Ida and Wanda finally do find out what happened to Ida’s parents, it’s almost unclear what the story is. The character telling them sort of skirts around the subject, so you have to sort of guess the circumstances that led to what happened. Knowing they were Polish Jews during WWII gives you a clue that it’s not happy. The film is less interested in the surrounding climate than the effect the information has on its characters.

Wide open black and white cinematography
Wide-open black and white cinematography

It definitely stands on its own even while evoking an earlier style of filmmaking. The well-written characters are fascinating to watch. The cinematography is definitely the thing to pay attention to here, and I look forward to watching it again sometime to make full sense of the choices they made with it.

How the Cinematics change the dynamic of the film

The use of light in the movie
The use of light in the movie

Light continues to be an important symbolic element, as electric light illuminates Wanda’s apartment. She reflects her initial coldness to Ida, while warmer candlelight flickers on Ida’s face in the convent. The candlelight only reveals a portion of Ida’s face. Again representing the limited knowledge we have of her, as well as her internal battle with her intention to become a nun. In the convent, as the nuns are bathing, Ida stirs the coals in the fire.

The light, which would have been a red hue if the film were in color, shines onto her face from below. It reveals a demonic fire inside of Ida caused by her exposure to the outside world’s sin. Again, the flickering light of the fire, symbolizing desire, falls on part of her face. As at this point in the film, her inner stirrings are still hidden from the passive camera. To sum up, the single source of lighting that only partly illuminates the characters in Ida shows how the camera has a detachment from the narrative due to its limited insight into the characters.

The End of Ida

The end of Ida provides both characters with an out. Wanda takes her own life and Ida returns to the convent after experiencing the pleasures of alcohol, cigarettes, and hot Polish boy. The outside world was drained of meaning for Wanda; whereas Ida could never find it in the first place. Utterly dissatisfied by the promises of puppies, marriage, and children, “And then?” she asks. Still, her decision to return to the convent, where a laugh at dinner hangs like a fart and life is full of fraternity-like rituals. It seems like her own version of Wanda’s oblivion.

Leave a Reply