(out of 5)
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.
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
Screenplay by Pawel Pawlikowski, Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Music by Kristian Eidnes Andersen
Costume Design by Ola Staszko
Film Editing by Jaroslaw Kaminski