Directed and co-written by Pawel Pawlikowski, Ida (2013) is about the aftermath of the holocaust. Set in Poland in the 1960s, Wanda (Agata Kulesza) is a Jew who stayed after liberation and earned the nickname “Red Wanda” as a feared prosecutor in the new communist regime. In some ways no different from a male commissar, she keeps her demons at bay with alcohol and sex. But when she meets her only living relative, a Catholic novitiate renamed Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) that all begins to change.
Inside and out, there’s an oppressiveness, emphasized by the stark black and white cinematography by Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal. This is a very un-psychedelic version of the 1960s. Surprisingly, though, there is some overlap with Mad Men in the smoking, cocktail jazz and dark humor. Wanda, who cleans up well off duty, has a bitter edge reminiscent of Don Draper’s New York women.
When Wanda and Anna set out looking for clues to what happened to relatives who disappeared in the countryside during the war, the detective story also becomes a road movie. Along the way they meet a saxophonist (Dawid Ogrodnik) who idolizes John Coltrane. As Lis, Ogrodnik is convincing and natural.
Kulesza shows us every facet of Wanda, forceful, sarcastic, seductive and ultimately tragic. Trzebuchowska is also good as the young woman who discovers that her whole life has been a lie. In the end, she must decide whether to return to the familiar or join the new world Wanda has shown her.
Ida is now in limited release.