Excerpts from David Denby's NYT review of May 2014
"We are so used to constant movement and compulsive cutting in American movies that the stillness of the great new Polish film “Ida” comes as something of a shock. I can’t recall a movie that makes such expressive use of silence and portraiture; from the beginning, I was thrown into a state of awe by the movie’s fervent austerity. Friends have reported similar reactions: if not awe, then at least extreme concentration and satisfaction. This compact masterpiece has the curt definition and the finality of a reckoning—a reckoning in which anger and mourning blend together. The director, Pawel Pawlikowski, left Poland years ago, for England, where he linked up with the English-born playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz."
"How can you capture a nation’s spirit by telling a singular story? By making every shot as definitive as an icon. “I’m not emotionally excited by the power of cinema’s tricks anymore,” Pawlikowski has said. The director and his fledgling cinematographer, Lukasz Zal, shot the movie in hard-focus black and white; they have produced images so distinct and powerful that they sharpen our senses. “Ida” might be called static were it not for the currents of emotion from shot to shot, which electrify the women’s relation to each other throughout. Clearing away clutter, Pawlikowski almost never moves the camera; many of the scenes are just long-lasting shots, fed by a single light source that often puts the faces in partial shadow (what we understand of these two women will always be limited). Sometimes the figures are positioned at the bottom of the frame, with enormous gray Polish skies above them, as if the entire burden of a cursed country weighed on its people."
David Denby NYT