Thursday, February 12, 2015
Recent Watches: Ida (2013)
Ida.” I knew it was a Polish film, that it was shot in black-and-white, and that it had something to do with nuns and the Holocaust. Great. Sounds delightful. Let’s pop that in on a Thursday night. However, this ignorance on my behalf ended up working in the film’s favor. “Ida” is a film about discovering one’s past. By going in blind, it was a discovery for me too.
Poor Anna is having a rough week. An orphan raised by nuns, and about to take a vow as a nun herself, Anna is instructed by her Mother Superior to seek out her only living relative. This turns out to be her aunt Wanda, a boozy, chain-smoking, promiscuous older woman. Anna immediately discovers that she was born Jewish and is actually named Ida. As a judge in Communist, post-war Poland, Wanda oversaw some atrocities of her own. The two make an unlikely pair, seeking answers to what happened to Anna’s parents and Wanda’s sister.
“Ida’ is also explicitly about the wages of war and the effect it has on those caught in the middle. The ghost of World War II looms large over the story. Poland in the sixties is a country still recovering from the wounds of the war. It’s not exactly a spoiler to say that Anna’s birth parents were killed by the Nazis. The exact circumstances of their deaths, and how the aftermath plays out, provides the film with its biggest emotional gut-punch. Like everything else in the film, it’s handled with grace and understated strength. The film doesn’t back away from acknowledging that Poland was responsible for some crimes of its own. What Wanda did during those days weighs on her mind as well. The recovery from guilt is a slow road and one that will take time. By focusing in on a single story, “Ida” presents the atrocities of the past in a way easy for anyone to understand.
What most works about the film is its performances. In an odd way, the film is a buddy story, about two people with opposite personalities developing a close friendship. Though potentially trite, the two main performances sell the story. Agata Trzebuchowska as Anna is quiet for most of the run time. The film focuses on her face, her wide, dark eyes often framed by her nun’s habit. Her body language, stiff and solid, shows her character. When she finally cuts loose, it’s as equally cathartic for the audience as it is for her. Agata Kulesza as Wanda spares nicely with Trzebuchowska while making it clear that she really cares for the girl. Kulesza is fiery and passionate while showing a lot of age. She’s lived a hard life, full of regrets. Also notable is Dawid Ogrodnik as the saxophonist that catches Anna’s eye. He’s likable and charming, creating a lot of personality in his brief amount of screen time.