Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is about to take her vows as a nun, having completed her novitiate training. The Mother Superior tells her to visit her family before going through with it to be sure that she is ready. Her only living relative is an aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), the sister of her mother, who survived the second world war.
The time is Poland in the 1950s or 1960s, when John Coltrane’s jazz was delighting the ears of listeners, when women were wearing tailored dresses and high heels, when tv was in black and white. The movie is shot in a somber grey palate that never lets you forget the seriousness of its subject. Anna, born Ida, learns that she is Jewish, her whole family murdered, the location of their remains unknown. When she visits her aunt, and tells her she is about to become a nun, Wanda and Ida set out to find the place where their family was murdered, in order to put their bones to rest.
It is a disturbing story, powerfully brought to life by the two women who play the leading parts. Ida is serene, sure of her faith, and willing to follow her aunt on their grim task to its conclusion. Wanda has a job as a judge in the Soviet inflected republic that Poland became after the war. She drinks and smokes, and becomes more unnerved as they reach the end of their journey.
The movie is expertly edited and cleanly shot while remaining mindful of the delicate relationship between the young soon to be nun and her older more bohemian guardian.