It’s easy to make a sad film about the Holocaust; it’s hard to make it small. Some stare straight at the atrocity (Schindler’s List, Sophie’s Choice) and evoke grand emotions, others focus on individuals (Life Is Beautiful) and the triumph of spirit, but almost all are direct and teary-eyed. Which isn’t a bad thing at all — it’s an important way to tell a story, just not the only way.
Ida is pitch black, but it’s decidedly not a tearjerker. The Polish film tells the story an orphan who is about to become a nun. Before taking her vows, she is asked to learn about her parents’ history and decide for herself whether this is the life she wants. But where most would linger on emotions, Ida (both the film and the character) disengages: the camera backs away, intense conversations end abruptly, and tears are replaced with long, blank stares. The result tells a powerful story which is beautifully shot, but (aided by the language barrier) sometimes frustratingly hard to engage with. If you’re patient with it, there’s a lot to love — the quietness makes the big moments feel louder by comparison. But if you don’t think you’ll like it, you’re probably right.