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Truly an innocent in early-1960s Poland, the central character in “Ida” (Agata Trzebuchowska) quickly discovers that not much she’s been told about her past is true or complete.

For one thing, there’s that name. She’s been raised in a convent as the orphaned Catholic “Anna,” but she turns out to have an alcoholic, openly promiscuous Jewish aunt (Agata Kulesza), a former prosecutor who became infamous as “Red Wanda” for her Soviet-favored court decisions.

A novitiate on the verge of taking her vows, Ida/Anna is subjected to a series of shocks as she tries to sort out the truth from the sheltering fiction. In the process, the aunt, whose political influence is declining, takes an extreme step that’s anything but expected.

Director Pawel Pawlikowski, drawing from his own postwar memories and working with cameramen Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski, vividly creates a visual distinction from the first black-and-white frame.

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The stark contrast between different forms of existence is emphasized repeatedly, reaching its peak with Ida/Anna’s flirtation with a saxophone player (Dawid Ogrodnik from “Life Feels Good”).

As the heroine who bounces back from one potential catastrophe after another, Trzebuchowska always suggests resilience. She’s got a lot on her mind, but we know she’ll survive.

John Hartl:

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