The striking photography in “Ida” — mostly tableau black and white images in boldly atypical compositions within a squarish 1.33:1 frame — turned heads and took home the Golden Frog at the 2013 Camerimage Intl. Festival of the Art of Cinematography. “Ida” also earned the pair the inaugural Spotlight award from the American Society of Cinematographers.
The story follows an orphaned novitiate sent to the city to learn about her fraught Jewish past from a dissolute aunt before taking her Catholic vows as a nun.
Ryszard Lenczewski started the project with director Pawel Pawlikowski, his frequent collaborator, but health problems forced the cinematographer to turn the camera over to his operator, Lukasz Zal.
Both Lenczewski and Zal are graduates of the Polish National Film School. Lenczewski took more than 3,000 photographs during six months of testing and design.
“We chose black and white and the 1.33 frame because it was evocative of Polish films of that era, the early 1960s,” says Lenczewski. “We designed the unusual compositions to make the audience feel uncertain, to watch in a different way. We trust intuition first. Then we come to intellectual thinking, but in the end, we come back to intuition.”
In addition to his work with Pawlikowski, Lenczewski has made films with Rowan Joffe (“The Shooting of Thomas Hurndall”), John Crowley (“Intermission”) and Kenneth Lonergan (“Margaret”), among more than two dozen narrative credits. He previously earned awards from BAFTA for two television dramas, “Charles II: The Power and the Passion,” and “Anna Karenina.”
Zal has a background in documentaries. He took the Golden Frog in the documentary category in 2011 for “Paparazzi.” He avoided conventional coverage on “Ida.”
“Pawel and I shot using ‘poster storytelling,’ where a scene is presented with tableau shots that are not connected by a master. Each frame was carefully designed to suggest the wider world beyond, and to communicate the characters’ sense of strangeness and loss.
“The close collaboration with Pawel was like a dream for me,” Zal adds. “It gave us the courage to take risks, to make a film that has authenticity and significance.”
— David Heuring