WHAT I LIKED: 'Ida,' is set in post-WW2 Poland and portrays the scars left by the horrors of the war whilst exploring devotion to faith and family with a brilliant story about a young nun who suddenly finds out about her Jewish family when visiting her reckless aunt - but none of that is what makes this the modern masterpiece that it is. Yes, that instead all lies with the direction as Paweł Pawlikowski takes concise storytelling to the extreme by telling you nothing you don't need to know and brilliantly relying on pure visual cinema to provoke what he wants to whilst leaving you to fill in the blanks - and the result is one of the most meditative and atmospheric films I've seen in recent years.
We begin establishing the titular nun character, and in a few long shots and with a tiny amount of dialogue we already feel for the nature of her restrictive life. She knows no different of course, but then she goes to meet her aunt for the first time and their amusing relationship begins to develop - again without the use of dialogue to tell us how the characters feel, but with subtle moments and gestures from two great actors that give us everything we need. The film continues as the pair go on a journey to learn about the death of Ida's parents in the war, and as things develop Paweł Pawlikowski not only paints a thoroughly melancholic picture of the surrounding post-war Poland with his beautiful grey visuals; he also provokes us to meditate on the restrictions of Ida's faith and her obvious confliction between Jewish heritage and strict Catholic upbringing with numerous situations that test her character.
This kind of visual filmmaking in a way puts in mind the work of Steve McQueen, but it's far more concise as Pawlikowski doesn't 'enter scenes late and leave them early' like many directors do but instead seems to enter early to establish, and then to leave even earlier - leaving room for the audience to imprint their own feelings and interpretations in a way that's perhaps most akin to the experience of reading a novel.
In the end then, all of that space around the fascinating central character study that's left for audience meditation and interpretation makes for something that will stay with you for days as you continue to immerse yourself in the world Pawlikowski created, and you'll soon realise what you have is probably one of the great films of the twenty first century. It really is an amazing piece of work.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: Tying up a film like this is always going to be hard as there's no guided thematic arc, but the way the central character arc concludes is hardly satisfying in the end.
VERDICT: A film with a brilliant story that provokes you to meditate on many interesting themes, Paweł Pawlikowski's 'Ida,' takes some great foundations and delivers them in a truly magnificent way to leave the audience to fill in the blanks. This is concise visual cinema at its best, and the result is a true modern masterpiece.