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:
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXhCaVqB0x0
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.
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!