Tuesday, July 5, 2016

2014 Winner, Ida


Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
Distributor: Solopan
Released:  September 2013
Country:  Poland
In the past 20 years, a quarter of the Best Foreign Film Oscar winners  have had storylines involving Jewish persecution during the Second World War (specifically—Son of Saul, The Counterfeiters, Nowhere in Africa, Life Is Beautiful, and this film).  Interestingly, most of these stories (the exception being Son of Saul) have had a vein of hope and the spirit to overcome tragedy running through them.  Ida, the first Polish film to ever win the award, earns its place among these great films.

Ida, we learn, is a novice nun about to take her full vows in the Catholic Church.  But this is no Salzburg, with Ida twirling around the Alps--it is 1960’s Poland, and the film’s black-and-white bleakness reflects Poland’s post-war communism. Before taking her vows, the Mother Abbess orders Ida to go visit her Aunt Wanda, a dutiful and cruel Communist judge who enthusiastically imposes the authoritarian government’s harsh penalties upon its citizenry.  Wanda smokes and drinks and sleeps around, unable to deal with, it seems, the guilt she feels at having survived the war and its aftermath in the manner that she has.  Ida, we soon learn, is not really “Ida” at all, but Anna, a Jewish girl saved by the abbey from the Nazis when she was a baby.  Wanda urges Anna that before she goes full nun she should climb every mountain and ford every stream.   The mountain presents itself in the form of Lis, a pretty-boy musician Wanda and Anna pick up hitchhiking.  Will Ida stay on the nun career-track, or will she follow the lead of her Aunt Red Wanda and say “so long, farewell” to the convent?  How do you solve a problem like Ida  . . .  has?

Captain von Trapp
The Catholic Church is a frequent target in filmdom, both at home and abroad; in Ida, the Church is the reason Ida is alive.  The choice Ida/Anna has to make is not an easy one.  For her entire life she has prepared herself to be a nun—the quiet isolation of the abbey seems a great solace in such a dreary time and place.  And her sax-playing paramour is no Captain von Trapp.  But choosing the life of self over God seems enticing, especially after knowing the way she had come to the abbey.

While the tone of Ida may seem depressing, on the whole I found this story to be oddly uplifting.  But the lack of nondiegetic music—music heard by the audience but not by the characters in the film—contributes to the sense of seclusion felt by Ida, by those in the abbey, and perhaps by even Poland herself.  The 80-minute length of this film feels about right; no need to wallow in the Holocaust and post-war Stalinism any longer than we need to. Honestly, this movie doesn’t rank up there as among my favorite things.  That said, this quiet little film deserves a look. 

The Title:  Pronounced “EE-da.”  The Jewish name for our heroine, Anna.

Culture:  The bleakness of communist Poland some years after the end of World War II is underscored by the black-and-white cinematography and lack of a laugh-track.  The war may have been won by the Allies, but we can see that Poland didn’t come out a winner.

Agenda danger:  If you are a National Socialist or just a regular Socialist, you may walk away feeling insulted.  The movie does portray the Catholic Church as an agent of good, though not in an over-the-top way.

Best Picture that year:  Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

Rating:  I’ll give it a 16-going-on-17 out of 20.

No comments:

Post a Comment