For some, the past is a vicious concoction made up of damaging memories and the unknown, preventing a person from etching out a future with certainty. Questioning the past forms the basis for Pawel Pawlikowski’s beautifully realized Ida. The film begins with an unassuming introduction to Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), a young polish nun readying for her vows in 1960, painstakingly putting a fresh coat of paint on a Jesus statue. Anna is irrevocably devout, setting forth on a path distanced from society’s joy and pain. Before Anna can give herself completely to her priory, her superior urges her to seek out her family, a last act before the outside world disappears for good. Anna hesitantly meets her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), a promiscuous heavy drinker with a law career built around the persecution of Polish citizens with an anti-communist bent. Wanda, after years of harboring a horrible secret, introduces Anna to a past that’s been buried in an unmarked grave. Anna, as it turns out, is actually named Ida, and she’s of Jewish descent, with her parents being murdered in World War II. After the past sinks in, Ida and Wanda begin their search for Ida’s parent’s grave; seeking answers for the past and future.
The women, forming an obvious odd couple with disparate belief systems, resolutely search for any shred of evidence. Their journey is a muted one. Instead of relying on overpowering emotional cues, like a swelling score or an overstated crying scene, Pawel Pawlikowski lets the gravity of the situation sink in without unnecessary filters. Even some of the film’s most obvious notes, Ida becoming increasingly interested in her own sexuality after she meets a charismatic saxophone player, are vastly understated. There’s also a powerful simplicity in the aesthetic choices Pawlikowski makes, especially with the black and white format. The cinematography is gorgeously bleak, providing Poland’s frigid land with an irrevocable beauty and everlasting melancholy. With little distractions on-screen, the residual pain weighs heavily not only on Ida and Wanda, but for us as a voyeur. Both actresses do their part, and are nothing short of revelatory. They express a level of impenetrable sadness and longing in subtle, yet moving ways. But the most impressive aspect of Ida, and Pawlikowski’s execution, is the character’s personal journeys are reflective of Poland as a nation in the 1960’s, where teary eyes forlornly looked back on a sordid past, and hopeful hearts prayed for a better future.
Force Majeure (4.5/5)
I can’t say with certainty that I wouldn’t trample a couple of kids in lieu of dying or preventing injury. Hell, if I’m on the Titanic, I’m probably the asshole hijacking Rose’s makeshift raft in the ocean. Perhaps I’ve already broached this subject in past reviews, but why are we so sure we’d all behave morally and altruistic in a perilous situation? We all have this grand vision of ourselves that, when tested, we’ll react in line with not only our values, but society’s as well. And when someone daringly defies our expectations or undermines the vision we’ve constructed for them, we mercilessly hang them for all to see. It’s a grim joke, but one that sets off an awkward, discomforting chain events in the brilliant Swedish film Force Majeure. While on a skiing trip with their children, parents Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) find their marriage in the gallows awaiting execution. On the outset, their marriage seems prosperous, but their interaction reveals a crack in the façade. On day two of their five-day winter sabbatical, the family, while sitting down for a nice breakfast on the resort’s patio, watches a controlled avalanche take place. This isn’t anything new for the resort, but something goes very wrong when a mountain of uncontrolled snow comes rumbling towards the family.
Tomas fails to live up to his patriarchal duty, and runs away from the scene, while his wife clutches their children in fear. In the aftermath, Tomas is no longer the man Ebba envisioned, and their marriage has the scent of a spoiling carcass. Initially, the two play it off like a difference of opinion, but as their trip progresses, they find themselves in constant battle with one another. Writer/director Ruben Östlund suffocates any ounce of love and respect in the couple’s marriage through piercing, awkward scenes of dialog. The conversations between Tomas and Ebba crackle with disdain and embarrassment, inducing more than a few squirms from me. Even more important, Östlund doesn’t shy away from showing how the dissolving marriage affects the children. They are, actually, the victims of circumstance. I imagine Force Majeure reads like a depressing affair, but it’s more than a serious dissection of a marriage. A wicked black humor infiltrates many scenes, one of which finds Tomas and Ebba’s acidic state spreading into another couple’s relationship. But Tomas and Ebba’s fractured relationship serves a higher purpose in the bigger picture, as Östlund forces us to consider what our own personal “force majeure” may be. The answer is likely far more unsettling than we’d like to admit.