In 1962 Poland, a young woman named Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is about to take her vows as a nun; an orphan, she has been raised in a rural convent. But first she must visit her only known relative, her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), living in the city. The brusque Wanda has some news for her: Anna is really "Ida," the only survivor of her Jewish family, who were killed during World War II. Prompted by memories of the past, the two women embark on a road trip, looking to uncover the truth — or even just the graves — of their lost relatives.
Pawel Pawlikowski's film is one of those quiet dramas that might try some viewer's patience, but beneath its economical storytelling is a fair amount of revelation and complex emotion. It's essentially a two-person drama —- three if you count the unseen ghost of the past that defines the women's relationship. (Four, if you count post-war, Communist-controlled Poland, depicted here in mid-winter, caught in tense present between a fading past and an uncertain future.)
The spare dialogue is supplemented by fine performances by both actresses, the pair a study in physical and philosophical contrasts — Wanda, hardened by life and buttressed with makeup and booze, and the impossibly untouched Anna. A personal and historical study in grays, shot appropriately in black and white, with most scenes exquisitely framed and photographed. In Polish, with subtitles.