The Polish indie, Ida, is about a young nun who learns that she’s really a Jew. The film played Sundance last year and became a favorite on the festival circuit, winning awards in Toronto and at the BFI Fest in London.
Ida’s writer and director, Pawel Pawlikowski, never imagined that his small, black and white arthouse film would get much traction outside of Poland. Now it’s an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Picture and Best Cinematography.
Pawlikowski spent much of his childhood in Warsaw but as a teenager moved to London, where he later made English-language films like My Summer of Love, which put actress Emily Blunt on the map. He also made a movie in France. But now he’s moved back to Warsaw and Ida is his first feature from his home country.
Set in early 1960’s Poland, Pawlikowski’s film tells the story of two women: the young nun to-be, Ida, played by Agatha Trzebuchowska, and her aunt Wanda, played by Agatha Kulesza.
Ida is an orphan who grew up in a convent, but before she is allowed to take her vows, she is sent to meet her aunt—a hard-drinking prosecutor who had been associated with the Stalinist regime. Ida learns that she is in fact Jewish, and together the women set out to learn where and how Ida’s parents had died during World War II.
Shot in black and white, Ida is stark and austere and the camera remains largely stationary throughout the film. When he set out to find funding for the project, Pawlikowski knew he’d have to temper his expectations and keep his budget small.
He tells Kim Masters about the unusual journey from small foreign indie filmmaker to Oscar contender, and reflects on the history of Polish cinema, which perhaps counterintuitively, blossomed under a Communist regime.
Pawlikowski also tells us that when it came to finding the young woman to play the title role in Ida, he auditioned over 400 actresses, but ultimately found Agatha Trzebuchowska in a cafe, through the help of a friend. Trzebuchowska wasn’t an actress, and unlike Ida, is an atheist. But Pawlikowski knew very early on that she would be the perfect Ida, especially once you took away her “hipster exterior.”