In Poland in 1962, young novitiate Anna (Trzebuchowska) is about to enter a convent. Encouraged to get to know her lone surviving family member before she takes her vows, Anna meets her aunt Wanda (Kulesza) a hard-drinking, jaded, Communist judge. Wanda breaks the news that Anna is in fact a Jew called Ida Lebenstein, whose parents died during the war. Together Wanda and Ida travel to their country village to discover what became of their family.
Pawlikowski shoots in austere black and white to reflect the grayness of postwar Poland, but the monochromatic palate also allows for a still, poetic lyricism as Ida and Wanda embark on a road trip to their past. Veteran actress Kulesza is superb as the conflicted Wanda, a woman dealing with both personal and political guilt. Trzebuchowska, in her first role, skillfully portrays the quiet inquisitiveness her role demands. The story of one Jewish family becomes a microcosm for Poland’s collective history in this contemplative, affecting drama.