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‘Ida’: Affecting performances in sublime black-and-white

Wand(AgatKulesza) illuminates her young niece (AgatTrzebuchowska) an aspiring hun about traumatic family events during World War II “Ida.” |

Wanda (Agata Kulesza) illuminates her young niece (Agata Trzebuchowska), an aspiring hun, about traumatic family events during World War II in “Ida.” | Music Box Films

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‘IDA’ ★★★★

Anna/Ida Agata Trzebuchowska

Wanda Agata Kulesza

Lis Dawid Ogrodnik

Music Box Films presents a film written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. In Polish with English subtitles. Running time: 82 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for thematic elements, some sexuality and smoking). Opens Friday at local theaters.

Updated: November 5, 2014 3:05PM

Set in an overcast Poland of 1962, “Ida” relates the circular sojourn of 18-year old orphan Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) from her convent to the city and back. Writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski once again intuits a turning point for a young woman, as he did with two Yorkshire teens in his “The Summer of Love” (2004).

Anna travels to Lodz to meet her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), saluted by comrades as “a faithful handmaiden against anti-socialism in the Polish nation.” Once a notorious state prosecutor, this hard-living cynic now handles minor cases, including a vandal accused of hacking prized tulips with a heirloom saber.

Wanda abruptly tells Anna her actual name is Ida Lebenstein. During the war, a Polish farmer first hid, then killed her parents and a related boy. The two women drive to the farm Anna owns by law. They leave with bones secretly buried in a nearby woods, heading for a Jewish cemetery in Lublin.

Lis (Dawid Ogrodnik from “Life Feels Good”), a hitchhiking saxophonist, introduces Anna to John Coltrane and other worldly sensations. After posing two brief yet profound questions to her first lover, the novitiate finds her path in faith. Her wordless answer to her own question is revelatory.

“Ida” reaches spiritual depth through affecting performances rendered in sublime black-and-white compositions. Cinematographer Lukasz Zal places faces in the lower corner of his frame to arresting effect.

Pawlikowski, who moved from Poland to England as a teen, partly based Wanda on Helena Brus-Wolinska, a prof’s wife he met at Oxford University. Poland tried to extradite her as an “accessory to a court murder” for presiding over Stalinist show trials.

In the upcoming “The German Doctor,” also set in the early 1960s, a fictional 12-year-old girl encounters the backstory of the title character, Josef Mengele. A supporting character in this Argentine film was cited in a Jewish Telegraphic Agency dispatch headlined: “Israeli Woman Killed by Nazis in Argentina; Sought Nazi War Criminal.”

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