Ida (2014) Pawel Pawlikowski
In the early 1960s, a young nun named Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is about to take her sacred vows in a Polish convent. Before she can do that, Anna is informed that she must first visit her family, which consists of only one aunt, a hard-drinking loose woman named Wanda (Agata Kulesza). Wanda’s not exactly excited to see her niece arrive, and within moments bluntly informs Anna that her real name is Ida, that she’s Jewish, and that her parents were murdered during World War II.
After the initial shock(s), Ida decides she wants to see where her parents are buried, only that’s not so easy. The locals who knew her parents either don’t know the location of their gravesite or won’t talk, partly because Wanda was a former prosecutor who dealt harshly with Polish anti-communist resistance fighters. It doesn’t take long for Ida to decide that there’s really not much to like about Aunt Wanda, but she has no one else to trust.
Wanda makes clear her scorn for Ida’s vows and her dedication to God quite early in their relationship. When Wanda arrives to their hotel room late one night after a party, Ida gives her a look of disgust, to which Wanda counters that Jesus loved hanging around degenerates like herself. Later in the film, Wanda tells Ida that she hasn’t discovered anything about life by living in a convent. “What sort of sacrifice are these vows of yours?”
Wanda knows exactly who she is and she’s not going to change, certainly not due to Ida’s judgmental stares. In trying to find her parents, Ida walks through a broken landscape, one she was certainly not prepared for by the convent, yet she’s determined to find answers.
Ida is a slow-moving black-and-white film in Polish with English subtitles that won’t be for everyone, but if you give it a chance, you’ll likely never forget it. You might think this is one of those typical “odd couple” movies and in a way it is, yet Ida examines some difficult thematic material, including visiting the sins of the past upon the children of the present in a way that is not heavy-handed. I also appreciate the way concepts such as grace, forgiveness and mercy are handled. And the ending may just surprise you.
Some critics have suggested that the film should be called Wanda rather than Ida, since much of the focus (and most of the dialog) belongs to Wanda. Yet both actors deliver magnificent performances, especially considering that Trzebuchowska – who was discovered in a cafe – is not a professional actress in this, her first film.
Ida was nominated for a Golden Globe award, losing to Leviathan. Look for Ida to also appear on the list of Best Foreign Film nominees at Oscar time. In the meantime, watch it streaming on Netflix.