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Nominated for Best Foreign Language Feature (Pawel Pawlikowski) at the 87th Annual Academy Awards

Nominated for Best Cinematography (Lukasz Zal, Ryszard Lenczewski) at the 87th Annual Academy Awards

A stark, gorgeously shot, Polish movie, that runs roughly 80 minutes long, Pawel Pawlikowski”s “Ida” is the favorite to win this season’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It’s not hard to fathom why–it’s a serious and captivating work that steers clear of the sin of overstaying its welcome. In reality, it’s a pretty simple road movie, but with harrowing themes and devastating payoffs. And while there’s a chance that I may agree that Jennifer Aniston deserved a Best Actress nomination for her role in the film, “Cake”(review coming up soon), it’s possible that I haven’t seen a finer performance from 2014 than that of Polish actress Agata Kulesza as Wanda. So, if you want to obsess over an Academy snub, let’s start there.

Anna (a wonderful Agata Trzebuchowska) is a young nun in 1960’s Poland. Orphaned and left at the convent as a baby, Anna is beckoned to meet with her long-lost aunt, Wanda Gruz (the astonishing Ms. Kulesza), who appears to be her only surviving blood relative. Anna travels away from the convent to discover that Wanda is an extreme alcoholic and quite sexually promiscuous. But when Anna’s aunt informs her that her parents were victims of the German occupation during WWII, it propels a journey of discovery involving heart-rending revelations. For one, Anna learns that her real name is Ida Lebenstein, and that her Aunt Wanda is searching for an answer that she may be better served not finding out.

Yes, “Ida” is emotionally devastating, and Mr. Pawlikowski achieves great things with a mixture of precision and subtlety, as well as devotion to a tried-and-true formula. He also wrote the film’s screenplay, along with playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz, and the finished product never seems to waste a syllable. Ms. Trzebuchowska is quite fine as Anna/Ida, but I doubt I’ll ever get over the mesmerizing work of Ms. Kulesza. She’s brilliant–and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association was wise enough to give her their Best Supporting Actress Award. Motion pictures that I see late in the season tend to have an unfair advantage over ones that I’ve witnessed months back, but my belief is that “Ida” will stand the test of time. It’s among 2014’s best.

Grade:  A

next review up:  “Cake”



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