Ida (2014) (PG-13)

"Ida" takes a lot of premises that could be great and mashes them into a movie that runs short of what it could have achieved while feeling slightly more than just stereotypical. So take any movie based in the aftermath of WWII and shoot it in black and white...what is it about? The Holocaust of course! I know it may seem a bit uncouth to joke about; but the lack of originality (or at least, surprise) here is so glaring that it doesn't come across as an emotional powerhouse like it could have.
Everything that director and screenwriter Pawel Pawlikowski does is for the purpose of anti-sentimentality. 
Take this for example: The story's climax comes at the very beginning when a young girl named Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is told that before she takes her vows and becomes a nun, she needs to visit her only living relative, Wanda (Agata Kulesza). So Anna goes off to find her aunt and when she does, they have literally just met for the first time when Wanda drops the bombshell on Anna, Oh btw you're name is Ida and your Jewish. This changes literally everything about how Ida/Anna was raised. How can she now identify with something that she's had no idea about for her entire life?
Pawlikowski doesn't shoot this scene for tears and frustration, just for the maturity of subtle resignation, which is kind of cheating the viewer out of at least one tissue. Anna/Ida is such an old soul that these things don't seem to bother her; but she does say that she wants to see her parents' graves. Unfortunately, that may be a little difficult because most of the Jews in Poland during the time of the war, don't have marked graves...but they try anyway.
Wanda and Ida travel up to a little country house where supposedly Ida's parents hid during the war and Wanda starts to question the boy who owns his father's land now. They don't get the answers that they want and eventually track the old man down to a hospital where things start to become a little more clear as to why Wanda has started to become more emotionally explosive.
The only time we see an emotional rise out of Ida is when it is surrounding her religion and the implications that spin-off thereof. Because she now sits between two religions, Ida has to make a choice on which one will be the more prominent role in her life. But Catholicism is her life, what she was raised on. How can she reject that?
In all honesty, the religious struggles are not the centerpiece for Pawlikowski's movie, but the plot instead...which is a shame because it's far less interesting and less moving.
"Ida" is shot in crisp black and white with a lot of interesting camera choices. The shots will often crop a character out of the frame or focus on one part of their head instead of letting us see their full face in the frame. It's interesting and it's not distracting, so that's nice; but it hardly constitutes as anything that revolutionary. 
The movie's "foreign" feel, which I am quite secure in saying has been perfected by Michael Haneke, is also the reason for its "shrug of the shoulders" narrative that almost appears to not even care about its characters. 
There is an entire side-plot that surrounds Ida giving up her future vows to know what the world tastes like, even that Pawlikowski heavily implies that she might not be heterosexual—and it serves no one any good.
"Ida" does have it's great moments though and Kulesza's performance is one of them. It looks amazing, it feels pretty true to the time period, and it doesn't shout too loudly about what its next movie is going to be. Still, it feels recycled and I can't help but want something a little fresher from such a promising film.
"Ida" is good, but that's where it stops.

Score: ★★★

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