Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Framing: Ida

This 2013 Polish/Danish film directed by Pawel Pawlikowski follows the life of a young, orphaned novice about to take her vows at a convent in the early 1960s. She discovers the existence of an aunt and, together, they go in search of answers concerning what happened to their Jewish family during the Second World War and years of Nazi occupation.

My friend Jackie recommended this film to me a few weeks ago and, since it was on Netflix, I decided to watch it and decide whether or not I wanted to feature it on the blog. From the very first shot of this film I knew that I would have do a piece on framing. Every single scene is set and captured as though they were works of fine art. What follows are some of the best examples of how shot compositions can enhance a story and lend insight into characters and their states of mind. [Heavy spoilers ahead.]

The opening shot of Ida.
The eponymous girl, who originally goes by the name of Anna,
is repairing what appears to be the face of a statue.
It is later revealed to be an effigy of Jesus Christ.

Many scenes are filmed with the subjects placed off-center or in the lower corners of the frame. More on this to follow.

In the first image, Ida helps her sisters erect the statue in front of the convent.
In the second, Ida leaves to join her aunt.

Notice that the statue is far behind the girl as she walks away in the cold.

By drawing focus away from the people in these scenes, Pawlikowski effectively casts aside their importance in the greater scheme of things (in this case, the Christian Church, or God).

Ida is told that she must go and see her aunt before she can take her vows.

She is placed with her back to the door, sitting in contemplation. In another few moments she will stand and leave. Stairs lead up to the door, symbolizing that whatever lies beyond is a place of higher understanding. Still, she must open the door and take the subsequent journey of her own volition.

Wanda Gruz meets her niece.

Bars, chains, and other barriers are a common sight throughout this film. They symbolize different things at different times but, generally, they make apparent a disconnection between people, the world around them, and their understanding of both these things. They can also represent being trapped in the past—in pain.

Wanda watches Ida from the exterior of a bus station,
deciding whether or not she wants to take her back home.

Another wall placed between two characters. This one is familial and generational.

A photograph of Ida as a baby with her mother, Ŕoża.

The shot is askew, the table worn, stained, and dirty. This reflects Wanda's lifestyle just as well as it does Ida's lack of identity.

Before her aunt comes to fetch her back home,
Ida sits by herself on the bus to the station, turned away from her fellow man
as she rides far from her recently discovered past.

Ida stands alone in quite a few scenes.

She resides in a place above others due to her devout nature and holiness, but she is also shut off from them because of it.

Wanda is lonely, too.

The barrier symbolism presents itself over and over again. Here, as Wanda pounds shots at a bar, the old and the new merge in the background (the car v. the horsedrawn wagon). This is another prominent theme in the film. Once known as Red Wanda, the woman worked to rid Poland of 'enemies of the people', AKA anti-socialists. This gave her purpose after the near extinction of her entire family. She is struggling with multiple losses—including her own obsolescence—before Ida even dreams of entering into her life.

The two protagonists are not all that different from one another as they initially believed.

Wanda is framed just perfectly in this shot as it aligns her with the religious piece hanging on the wall. Her similarity to the woman in the painting foreshadows the fact that she is a mother and, perhaps, a woman who once possessed faith in the Almighty.

The two women find comfort in each other's company.

Note the two lamps, the two glasses, and their parallels.

The journey to find the truth, though difficult, is important to both Ida and Wanda.

When the camera is placed to frame a greater portion of the space above the main subjects rather than the subjects themselves, it is possible that Pawlikowski wanted to incorporate the importance of the heavens and their effect on—or, perhaps, their grandeur in comparison to—the people who exist below.

CU on Wanda washing up after she confronts the man whom she believes murdered her son.
A view of extreme grief which the audience is forced to watch up close and personal.

A powerful shot of Feliks, the man who killed Ida and Wanda's family.
He sits in their grave, desiring forgiveness from God.

Wanda walks away, her son's remains in her arms.
Ida stays to collect her parents and discover the final truth of their murder.

The exposed grave lies at her feet just out of shot.

Neither of their faces are shown—in fact, they are cut off from the neck up. The women have succeeded in the mission and, while they are closer because of it, they are also somehow estranged. There exists a chasm between the two of them that is impossible to cross due to the cruelties of the past.

Driving away. From everything.

This is one of the best scenes in the film and is greatly aided by the soundtrack. Wanda drives her car out of the wood where her sister, step-brother, and son were all killed and buried. The path opens up into a field. Sunlight leaks through the branches of trees as the vehicle propels itself forward into the world, an obvious light at the end of the widening tunnel.

After Ida returns to the convent, Wanda jumps from the window of her flat.
The cumulative effect of a life spent in pain.

There are bars above the window; she views it as an escape. The two lamps that were lit when Ida shared the apartment have been switched off.

Ida discovers a new part of herself after everything that has passed.
Perhaps it is not her, though. Rather, it's a reflection of a person she could choose to be.

These frames show the progression of Ida's relationship with Lis, the jazz saxophonist.

She first views him as an outsider, enjoying his world but not taking part. They develop a friendship, but there is still the restriction of her way of life (more symbolic bars, this time as in a cage). When at last a resolution to her parent's deaths is in sight, she begins to open up to the possibility of a more open and romantic relationship with the man (fewer bars with wider gaps surrounded by lights). Be aware that Ida's placement in front of the bars instead of remaining behind them is an important transition.

The recently de-habited Ida listens as Lis plays with his band in a club.

The two lamps are back, possibly signifying the beginning of a new bond.

Ida is a tragic story of identity crisis, fallible faith, personal loss, and cultural devastation, but it also features the strength of familial love, the joys of self discovery, and the importance of closure. I highly recommend watching this artistic drama even if only to appreciate the talents of newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska and veteran actress Agata Kulesza.

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