BAFTA Award-winning Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski made an astonishing pair of films in the first half of the last decade, with Last Resort and My Summer of Love. After a fairly quiet period he has returned with Ida, a poignant tale of a young nun in 1960s communist Poland trying to make sense of an unfamiliar world, which had taken the top prize at the London Film Festival. Beautifully shot in a stark monochrome, Ida is a sometimes difficult, understated gem of a movie that gives its audience much to think about during its brief, 80 minute running time.

Agata Trzebuchowska plays Anna, a novice nun with little experience of the world outside the very basic convent she has grown up in since being left there as a baby. As it turns out, Anna has a surviving relative, her aunt Wanda Gruz (Agata Kulesza), who she is encouraged to get in contact with. Gruz is a boozing state judge with an obvious amount of history and, on speaking to her, Anna discovers that her name is actually Ida Lebenstein, born to Jewish parents under Nazi occupation. This revelation leads the pair on an unconventional road trip to discover the fate of Ida’s parents, and gives her an opportunity to gain some semblance of the world around her.

Ida is a profoundly candid drama that succeeds in tackling a number of issues despite its short running time. On their travels, they pick up a young hitchhiker (Dawid Ogrodnik). He plays the saxophone and introduces Ida to a world of smokey nightclubs and John Coltrane. Through him, Ida sees an alien world that, despite scaring her, piques her curiosity. Anna silently begins to question her role as a nun who is soon to take her final vows. In one scene she puts on one of her aunt’s dresses, smokes a cigarette and timidly wanders about the house in a pair of heels. Should she reject her current life, the only one she has ever known?

The film looks stunning, each shot meticulously framed to make the background loom large. In some close ups, the characters’ faces take up just a small sliver of the frame as the world around threatens to crush them from above. However, though looking brilliant, it’s in the drama where this truly succeeds. It is an intense character study which raises a vast number of questions and leaves it to the audience to figure out the answers. Despite being 80 minutes in length it has the atmosphere and feel of a Béla Tarr epic, and is never held back by its relatively short duration.

You have to applaud a filmmaker who, in an age of seemingly longer and longer films across the spectrum from arthouse to blockbuster, can make a movie so rich in thought and ideas in less than an hour and a half. Ida is a film that will stay in the minds of audiences for days after the credits have rolled.