Thursday, February 12, 2015

Ida (2013)

2 Nominations, Wins TBD

Nomination: Best Foreign Language Film of the Year - Pawel Pawlikowski
Nomination: Best Achievement in Cinematography - Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski

Compared to the lush, showy cinematography of its fellow nominees (Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Mr. Turner, and Unbroken), it's not immediately clear why Ida was nominated in the category.  The film's stark black-and-white cinematography is far from the visual wonderland that is The Grand Budapest Hotel.  Yet the film's seeming visual simplicity belies a depth that is remarkable, much as the film's simple plot belies a depth of character and emotion that makes it one of the very best films of the year.

Ida reminded me a great deal of The White Ribbon, the Michael Haneke film from a few years ago that was also nominated in the foreign language and cinematography categories.  Both films were nominated not in spite of but because of their deceptively simple black-and-white cinematography.  Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski's black-and-white cinematography is as beautiful as I've ever seen.  The pair don't rely on shadows to create visual interest, a common strategy with black-and-white films, but instead create stunning depth of field and beautifully simple lighting.

Most noticeably, the camerawork makes star Agata Trzebuchowska literally glow, with her eyes as big as dinner plates.  Trzebuchowska turns in a terrific understated performance, but it's hard to overstate how much the cinematography enhances her performance.  Trzebuchowska emotes with the only slightest of facial movements, so small that they would be lost in most cinematographers' gazes. Aside from the sheer beauty of the cinematography, it is absolutely essential to conveying the emotions of the lead, and thus the film is unimaginable without it.

Everything about Ida is understated, from the quiet performances to the simple story.  There is no single thing about the film that makes it great; it is truly larger than the sum of its parts.  Ida is a truly lovely film, and will stay with me far longer than many of the films that attempted to make a bigger and more lasting statement.