Set in early 1960s Poland and filmed, (appropriately? - behind the Iron Curtain things always did seem pretty monochrome), almost entirely in black and white, Ida tells the story of a young novitiate who is instructed to meet her only relative before being allowed to take her final vows. Without much enthusiasm, she sets off in driving snow from a huge, once beautiful, hopelessly delapidated building. In an unnamed city, she finds her aunt who tells her the true story of her family. Together they set off to find her parents' unmarked graves.
I don't want to spoil the story by explaining what happens. The important thing is that the film conveys better than anything I've ever come across the devastation - psychological as much as physical - of post-war Communist Europe. The characters live among the wreckage of the recent past.
The performance of Agata Kulesza as Wanda, the aunt, is particularly outstanding, but no-one in the film is weak, (except perhaps the Dusty Springfieldesque singer, who doesn't seem to quite inhabit the period). The composition of the shots - if that's the correct way to put it; I need a course in cinema - is extremely beautiful. Despite the sombre subject matter there are even moments of humour. My favourite was when Wanda asks in a village pub whether the barman remembers the Lebensteins. 'Jews?' he asks. 'No, Eskimoes', she replies.
The film is fairly enigmatic. The first scene, in which Ida repaints the face of an old statue of Jesus and then helps her fellow novitiates raise it falteringly onto a pedestal in the grounds of the nunnery, may represent the reemergence, however precariously, of goodness as a force, in which case the final scene might be seen to reinforce this. All the same, rather than including an interlude where things appear to be on the point of resolving into a happy ending, I think I might have stopped the camera before an open window in the aunt's flat and left things at that.
Never mind. This is a minor quibble and I may have actually completely missed the point. The main thing is, if you've been searching all your life for a Sound of Music without sentimentality, schmaltz or cuteness, Ida could just fit the bill