On paper, Pawel Pawlikowski's Ida doesn’t exactly have the makings of a global hit, but the Oscar-nominated film has defied expectations since its debut in 2013. The spare, black-and-white drama follows an orphan who’s about to become a nun in 1962 Poland when she learns her parents were Jewish, prompting her to unearth the story behind their deaths. The quiet but resolute Ida (played by first-time actress Agata Trzebuchowska) is accompanied by her newly discovered aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), a hard-drinking former judge who’s haunted by her part in the country's post-war Stalinist purges. Despite this grim logline, Ida is a remarkably affecting, often funny, and subtly tragic work that succeeds by focusing tightly on its characters as they brush up against their country's dark past.
Ida packs a huge punch in its 82-minute runtime and was greeted with critical acclaim and surprising box office success for a specialty film (more than $10 million). Its impact has grown on Netflix, where the film can be streamed now in preparation for the Academy Awards (it's a frontrunner to win Best Foreign Film and is also nominated for its cinematography). Up until Ida, director Pawlikowski had only made films set in his current home of Britain, including the BAFTA-winning romantic drama My Summer of Love, which marked Emily Blunt's film debut. Ida has generated some controversy within Poland for its supposed lack of patriotism, specifically for featuring a story that touches on some Polish citizens' complicity in the Holocaust without mentioning that many Poles worked to save Jews during the Nazi occupation. The criticism, which stems from the country’s troubled relationship with its relatively recent history, only ramped up once Ida achieved international success. But Ida is above all else a personal tale, not a retelling of history, as Pawlikowski explained in this interview, which has been edited for clarity.