Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. Poland/Denmark/France/United Kingdom, 2013. Opus Film, Phoenix Film Investments, Canal+ Polska, City of Lodz, Danish Film Institute, Eurimages, Phoenix Film Poland, Polski Instytut Sztuki Filmowej, Portobello Pictures. Screenplay by Pawel Pawlikowski, Rebecca Lenkiewicz. Cinematography by Ryszard Lenczewski, Lukasz Zal. Produced by Eric Abraham, Piotr Dzieciol, Ewa Puszczynska. Music by Kristian Eidnes Andersen. Production Design by Marcel Slawinski, Katarzyna Sobanska-Strzalkowska. Costume Design by Ola Staszko. Film Editing by Jaroslaw Kaminski. Academy Awards 2014. Golden Globe Awards 2014. Independent Spirit Awards 2014. Toronto International Film Festival 2013.
A girl raised from infancy in a convent is preparing to take her vows in mid-sixties Poland when a woman shows up claiming to be a relative. It turns out the visitor is her aunt Wanda, who reveals that the future Sister Anna is actually a Jewish girl named Ida, placed in the church after her parents were killed during the war. They decide to find out where their deceased family members are buried, but getting around in a country still recovering from the devastating experience of twenty years earlier is an exercise in unspoken guilt and denial. When they are not being told to leave the past alone, the women sit in nearly empty cafes as Wanda downs shots of booze and Anna keeps herself insulated from the worldly matters she is being exposed to. Shot in gorgeous monochrome on a narrow ratio that makes stark images of a culture in guilty stasis loom large and powerful, this masterful experience by Pawel Pawlikowski is minimalist brilliance, every scene contributing to a narrative that is never overstated or overtly explained. The performances by actors terrific at being wordless and charismatic (especially a scintillating Agata Kulesza as Wanda) are as great a contribution to the film’s precision as are the carefully framed shots of figures barely managing to interrupt the many empty spaces, powerfully revealing the poverty of a coldly applied socialist ideology without pointing judgmental fingers.