Film Reviews

THE HENNESSY REVIEW – <i>Ida</i> (2013)


Doug Hennessy

June 24th, 2014



Wanda: Agata Kulesza
Ida/Anna: Agata Trzebuchowska
Lis: Dawid Ogrodnik
Szymon: Jerzy Trela

Ida is a rare and special movie that offers so much, so simply, and so visually, it moves you in ways you’d hardly expect.

It’s about choices; those that shape who you are and those you’re forced to live with. And it reflects on the challenges a nation endures as it moves from the devastating pains of the past towards the future of establishing a new identity.

Poland, early 1960s, and Anna, an orphan raised in a convent and now in her late teens or early 20s, is about to take vows as a Catholic nun. But first Mother Superior requires a visit to her only known relative, an aunt named Wanda.

Wanda survived her Jewish heritage through years of Poland’s postwar Stalinist anti-Semitism by working as a judge with a record of handing out ruthless sentences to underground subversives as the unmerciful Red Wanda. So she gets a kick telling Anna her real name is Ida, that Wanda’s sister was her mother, and Ida’s family was killed during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Before she takes vows, Wanda thinks Ida should know she is Jewish – a “Jewish nun.”

Struggling with a long, dark guilt about serving as a “comrade,” Wanda has severe issues of her own, and lives in a half-drunk, cigarette-smoke filled haze of cynicism and fornication. Her family secrets? She joins Ida in discovering just what happened.

As they set off on a rickety-car journey of revelation and personal recognition through the drab, wet, and steel-gray overcast of Poland, director Pawlikowski frames his black and white compositions in an old-fashioned 1.37:1 screen ratio, deliberately evoking past movies (I thought of Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light) as he creates a dynamic synergy with the haunting disorientation of the characters.

As these two, literally, dig out the past in order to understand the present, and what it means for the future, Ida lets loose by having an affair with a saxophone player who introduces her to the world of dancing and John Coltrane — a visually compelling metaphor for a nation cautiously moving from tyranny to democracy, form old world to new.

Pawlikowski tells it all in a crisp 80 minutes with such hold-your-gaze imagery and such powerful facial expressions that dialogue seems almost unnecessary. That’s what makes Ida so absorbing and beautiful. You’ll come away prompted to see it again. Don’t resist.

Doug Hennessy is a film critic, board member for the Eugene International Film Festival, and reviewer and selection jurist for the Open Lens Film Festival and DisOrient Film Festival.

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