January 20, 2015

These Static Frames from Oscar Contender 'Ida' Show Why Composition is King

The subtle, well-composed frames of Ida prove that composition is amongst the most powerful visual storytelling tools at our disposal.

In recent years, the Oscar category for Best Cinematography has been dominated largely by flashy VFX-heavy films. Many of these films are also heavy on camera movement and incredibly complex lighting schemes. This year, somewhat surprisingly if I'm being honest, the Academy's cinematography nominations trended back towards traditionally shot films like The Grand Budapest Hotel and Mr. Turner (plus another nomination for Roger Deakins).

However, a fantastic Polish drama called Ida, shot in stunning high-contrast black and white in a 1.33 aspect ratio by Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski, is perhaps the most surprising choice of all, and it's a choice from which we can learn a great deal about just how important composition can be to the image creation process.

First and foremost, in case you haven't seen the trailer for Ida yet, feast your eyes on this:

In a brief post on Vashi Nedomansky's fantastic blog, Vashi shared a handful of his favorite static frames from the film, and his choices re-enforce the opinion held by a select few (myself included) that Ida is one of the best cinematographic efforts in recent memory. This image is best viewed at its full size so that you can study these frames more closely, so click here to view the larger version.

Ida Static Frame Composition
Credit: Vashi Nedomansky

In his post, Vashi also had this to say about the above frames.

90% of the film is shot on a locked off tripod. With so many tools (dollies, sliders, cranes, drones, steadicams, Mōvis…) available to filmmakers, it is refreshing to experience a movie that chose so many exquisite and deliberate static frames to best tell the story. Each new shot reveals something about the lead character. Emotions, state of mind, and the story’s drama are expressed by the use of camera placement and lighting…not by spoken words.

While I have some serious doubts about Ida taking home the award for best cinematography this year (Chivo and Birdman have that one locked down, and for good reason), it's fantastic to see such a traditionally shot film (with the 1.33 ratio and everything) earn such wide recognition for its stunningly composed frames and the naturalistic beauty of its lighting. And this almost goes without saying, but if you haven't yet had the chance to see Ida, it's absolutely worth checking out because it truly is a masterclass in pure visual storytelling.

Have you seen Ida? If so, what were your thoughts on its cinematography and its overall visual style? Let us know down in the comments!     

Your Comment

18 Comments

Ida has a very simple storyline but it's a very bold film which makes it a unique experience to watch. Among the numerous awards that has won are the European Film Awards (the European "Oscars") for Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenwriter, Best Cinematographer and the Audience award.
Here's a great post from the American Cinematographer about the film, its cinematic approach and the breakdown of some lighting setups: http://www.theasc.com/asc_blog/thefilmbook/2014/05/13/lighting-scenes-id...

January 20, 2015 at 8:17PM

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Stel Kouk
Filmmaker
2935

Definitely one of the most sickeningly beautiful films I've seen and up there w/ some of my favorites (Anna Karenina being among them). Composition IS indeed king.

January 20, 2015 at 8:20PM

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One of my favorite movies of last year and definitely one of the best shot, right up there with Mr. Turner. I was so thrilled and happily surprised to see both of those films get some Oscar love in the cinematography category.

Ida is actually available for streaming on Netflix right now, and it's a really quick watch at only 80 minutes long, so there's really no excuse not to watch it, especially for fans of great storytelling and beautiful imagery.

January 20, 2015 at 9:31PM

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Oren Soffer
Director of Photography
1898

Oh nice! I didn't realize it had been added to Netflix. This calls for a second viewing!

January 20, 2015 at 10:52PM

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Robert Hardy
Founder of Filmmaker's Process
4058

Does anyone know what focal length those wide angle shots are?

January 21, 2015 at 9:20AM

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Something about that aspect ratio introduces such tension into the shots. Can't wait to watch this.

January 21, 2015 at 10:17AM

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Micah Dudash
Independent Filmmaker
84

I watched IDA half-expecting that eventually, there would be ONE shot that wasn't beautifully perfect...and that imperfect shot never came.

A key part of what makes these compositions so powerful is that they keep people very low in the frame, with an enormous amount of headroom. I think it utterly suits the theme of the movie: each character feels small in comparison to the massive weight of history hanging over their heads figuratively, and this is reinforced visually by having them be so low in a tall frame.

January 21, 2015 at 7:12PM, Edited January 21, 7:12PM

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Benjamin Reichman
Post Supervisor/AE/Editor
320

true!

January 23, 2015 at 5:40PM

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Chris Eckert
Graphic Designer, Photographer, Filmmaker
99

I love odd composed frames and Ida is beautiful. Also check out Dogtooth and LFO.

January 21, 2015 at 7:35PM

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404
film maker
91

Not only "Ida" is a visual treat for any filmmaker that cares about cinematic composition and story structure but I'd go perhaps a bit far as to say is one of the few perfect films of recent times. Aside from the performances, there's one element that stands out overall, editing. From that emerges what I consider the most important for any story to be told, pacing. I hope the academy members realize what lies before their eyes as to give the Best Foreign film and Best Cinematography nods it deserves.

January 22, 2015 at 8:16PM

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Really looking forward to seeing Ida. Lots of these shots look like photographs.

January 23, 2015 at 11:40AM

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Jamie Hooper
Filmmaker
149

Wondering why did this comment above has negative votes?

February 26, 2015 at 2:22PM

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GeoRover
Aspiring DoP
169

Did you notice almost all action takes place in the lower half of the images?

January 23, 2015 at 5:39PM, Edited January 23, 5:39PM

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Chris Eckert
Graphic Designer, Photographer, Filmmaker
99

Yes it is the "cathedral feeling", all the burden of the history lays above the characters.

January 24, 2015 at 1:07PM

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Stel Kouk
Filmmaker
2935

Learned a great deal from this film. I watched it in a full but silent movie theatre last year. A beautiful and well told story.

January 23, 2015 at 11:43PM

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Rachael Dakoda
Owner of Brian's Brackets
140

Love how it feels like a Ingmar Bergman film

January 27, 2015 at 8:07PM

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Tony Wesh
Filmmaker/Photographer
14

You guys, who've already seen the film? These shots look eerily amazing, but judging from these and the trailer, this rather unorthodox sense of composition runs through the whole film. Does this work out fine during the whole running time? Or does one get increasingly indifferent with, or worse, distracted by it? I can't help but see this danger looming over the visual concept of the film.

February 26, 2015 at 5:06AM

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This looks fantastic, definitely going to see it.

February 26, 2015 at 9:07AM

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Vladimir Druts
Founder & Director at Intangible.co
321