The latest from Pawel Pawlikowski, director of My Summer of Love and Last Resort, is an austere, exquisite black-and-white drama filmed in Pawlikowski’s native Poland; and winner of the inaugural BFI London Film Festival 2014’s ‘Best Film’ Grand Prix.
It’s set in 1960, with Anna, a young novice nun who is sent to visit her hitherto unknown aunt Wanda – a judge nicknamed ‘Red Wanda’ for her zeal as a former prosecutor of enemies of the state; a tough, high-functioning alcoholic whose louche lifestyle is in stark contrast to Anna’s cloistered, naïf existence.
Dispassionately revealing that Anna was born into a Jewish family as Ida Lebenstein, and that her parents were murdered during the war, she takes her niece with her on a road trip to find their resting place.
Along the way Anna/Ida learns more of her aunt’s past, as well as her parents’ and develops a new curiosity about the world she is about to close herself off from.
Admirably incorporating various elements – it is at turns a road movie, a coming-of-age story and a portrait of a country trying to evolve past Stalinist bleakness while still burdened by terrible WWII secrets – it never preaches and never over-explains; Pawlikowski choosing instead to show with delicacy, humour and luminous simplicity the way in which these women must navigate lives irrevocably affected by history.