Ida is a 2013 Polish drama film directed by Paweł Pawlikowski. It was screened in the Special Presentation section at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival where it won the FIPRESCI Special Presentations award. The film has been selected as the Polish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards. It is also nominated for People’s Choice Award for Best European Film at 27th European Film Awards.
Poland, 1962. Anna, an orphan brought up by nuns in the convent, is a novice. She has to see Wanda, the only living relative, before she takes her vows. Wanda tells Anna about her Jewish roots. Both women start a journey not only to find their family’s tragic story, but to see who they really are and where they belong. They question what they used to believe in. Both of them are trying to go on living but only one eventually can.
‘Ida’ an enchanting tale of the nature of sin
Shot in black-and-white, ‘Ida’ is a beautifully photographed and sensitive account of the dark days of the People’s Republic of Poland, which contains as its subject matter what the historian Norman Davies has described as ‘the meanest of controversies’, that of Polish Jewish relations in the middle of the twentieth century.
It is hardly by accident that ‘Ida’ has won prizes in film festivals in Gdynia, Warsaw and London, and critical acclaim in American newspapers. Paweł Pawlikowski, an expatriate Pole based in the United Kingdom, returns to Poland to tell the tale of novice nun Anna, who had been hidden in a nunnery during the war to protect her from the Germans. Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a Jewish girl, who first learns of her background from her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza). The two of them embark on a journey, during which they learn of not only the tragic history of their family, but also the truth of their identities.
The two women are the mirror opposites of each other. Wanda, also known as ‘Bloody Wanda’, is a communist judge, with a history of participating in Stalinist show trials, who attempts to drown her guilty conscience and inability to escape her past through alcohol and casual sex. Anna, who has led a sheltered life, believes that the answers to all of life’s big questions are to be found in Holy Scripture. Wanda attempts to comprehend her niece’s world view by reminiscing about Anna’s mother’s deep religiosity, whereas Anna, who has never before left the confines of the nunnery, is shocked by her aunts dissolute lifestyle. Together, the unlikely pair set off on a mission to find out what had happened to their nearest and dearest, who had been abducted and murdered during the war. Will their joint quest change their respective world views?
Notwithstanding a few scenes reminiscent of ‘on the highway’ films in the tradition of Jim Jarmusch, ‘Ida’ is not primarily a film concerned with discovering one’s identity. In many parts of the film, it is more related to questions of faith in during those dark days. Is Anna really ready to become a ‘bride of Christ’, considering she has yet to experience life ‘in the world’? Does her fate contradict the idea that God grants us the freedom to choose to love our creator? Was Wanda, the white-gloved, bloody red murderess and hanging judge, whose wartime experiences made her lose her faith, truly free to reject the excesses of Stalinism? Is her alcoholism proof of her awareness that God exists and has been betrayed by her?
It is the acting of Agata Kulesza that makes ‘Ida’ a great film. She portrays Wanda as a woman broken by the state and party she represents. The key to understanding her character comes in the scene in the hotel, where she drunkenly explains to her niece that Jesus came to forgive sinners. Did this cry for help show a sinner guilty of the most monstrous crimes against her family?
Of equal importance is Anna’s spiritual journey. Pawlikowski is no knee-jerk anti-Christian bigot out to ridicule the Catholic church, and point the camera at the bodily sins of its servants. Even so, when Anna meets a musician, a conflict begins between her body and soul. All this is, however, sensitively and subtly portrayed ….
©Olaf Cai Larsen