By Ryan Lattanzio | TOH! September 26, 2013 at 12:50PM
UPDATE: Following its French acquisition by Memento, Pawel Pawlikowski's "Ida," which impressed at both Telluride and Toronto, has found US and Canadian distribution with Music Box Films. A release in the late second quarter of 2014 is planned.
EARLIER: Paris-based Memento Films has acquired Pawel Pawlikowski's "Ida," a drama set in 1962 Poland that riveted audiences in Telluride, for distribution in France and French-speaking territories. Played by newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska, the title character is a young woman who makes unexpected discoveries about her Jewish heritage before taking vows as a Catholic nun, and so she goes on a journey with her aunt to uncover her roots.
Polish director Pawlikowski previously helmed the intense erotic drama and BAFTA winner "My Summer of Love" (2004). The black-and-white "Ida" screened at Telluride but will make its official world premiere at TIFF on September 7 before heading to the BFI London Film Festival in October. Three reviews rounded up from Telluride, below.
The film invites audiences to undertake a parallel journey while withholding much of the context (historical backstory as well as basic cinematic cues, like music and camera movement) on which engagement typically depends. It's one thing to set up a striking black-and-white composition and quite another to draw people into it, and dialing things back as much as this film does risks losing the vast majority of viewers along the way, offering an intellectual exercise in lieu of an emotional experience to all but the most rarefied cineastes.
If the plot sounds schematic, the film is anything but. It's another odyssey, also in black-and-white, a trip taken by niece and aunt to find out what happened to Ida's parents during World War II. The literally square screen -- so figuratively square as to seem revolutionary -- is often bottom-weighted: space at the top, heads and shoulders down below. The result is a sense of flesh-and-blood people firmly grounded in their environments. "Ida" is a testament to how much more less can be, and to the power of impassioned performances. Stripped of superfluous technique, this exquisite feature explores national as well as personal identity, and the need for belief in a bewildering world.
“Ida” is the first Polish-language feature directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, whose previous movies (notably “The Last Resort” and “My Summer of Love”) have made him one of the bright lights of British cinema. This movie is dark, both visually and thematically, as Mr. Pawlikowski uses a monochrome palette and a boxy, old-fashioned aspect ratio to capture the gloom of 20th-century Polish history and the glimmers of hope that managed to persist. The story of a young woman preparing to take her vows and become a Catholic nun, “Ida” touches on both the legacy of the Holocaust and the realities of postwar Communism with apt sorrow and an equally apt touch of fatalistic humor.