by Peter MenkinIn this work of art, the film Ida is about a nun who begins to fail in her vows and faith on learning of her background as a Jewish child whose family was murdered during the Second World War in Poland. We find many bleak scenes and dark moments. These are moments both of the past and in her discoveries of life in the world. A cinematic success of exceedingly visual bleak and many times beautiful pictures, this scenario like a piece of pictorial movement in sculpture shows tawdry buildings in contrast to the youthful and lovely innocence of the novice nun Ida who seeks her past in currency of her current identity crisis.
Her Mother Superior sends her on this hunt, a mission, a quest to find herself in her Jewish past; the nun Ida who was foundling all her life meets her Aunt, a cold Communist Judge in another town who leads her to the hidden grave of her family. In a grisly scene the two unearth the bones in the middle of the night.
Yes, Ida does go see her Aunt Wanda, played so convincingly and even chillingly with a dark despair by Agata Kulesz—actress of brilliant skill. Ida is played by first time actress Agata Trzebuchowska and brings a lovely innocent simplicity to the part.The successful chemistry between the two helps to bring out the theme of good and evil this writer found in the movie.
I failed to find anything but a chilling, but genuine bond between the two relatives; there was a kind of lost sense of despair for Ida: that of the knowledge of her many years as orphan, perhaps; and for Red Wanda a drunken loneliness and a real loneliness to the soul. She was a woman alone with nothing but her work as Judge and Communist and it seemed to this viewer not enough, but something creating more loss for her. I know, this is odd to say, but so I sensed for when she loses Ida later in the movie the viewer will see her despair come to the fore in spades.
Mostly, this is a film about characters and their finding each other in family and the horror of their history; it is a film about a dark family secret and attempting to bury it again. This viewer grieves the conflict of evil in the good novice’s life. Evil greets good as Ida, Evil represented by Wanda. The devil seduces the niece, a novice Nun, seduced with the bleak world of Wanda’s dark past and present life and so Ida begins to lose her faith in God and Church. It is also Ida’s past, but not her way of living that past. And there is the difference.
The two in their misguided quest to find the bones of the family grave and dig them up begin the dark process of disturbing their own past and raising the darkness. This is a seduction of the force of evil itself, an awakening of it to the fore, the stark power of evil as being in the world. Evil is awakened. Wanda the Communist personifies the dark side. Even when the Communist Wanda uses the name God as to call on the Almighty as believer, this is a deep lie on her lips.
What good does it do for Ida to be seduced into pursuing the past in this way, but to live the bleak past again so darkly again as though to open a wound rather than as a nun heal it and bury the dead who are buried and pray for them and those who have died? Wanda appears to want nothing of the orphan side of loneliness, of Ida and her nun’s way. She who is the hangman judge of the past as Communist put so many to death in the cause of Communism appears to want nothing of the Nun’s ways and so is a prisoner of her own cold philosophy and life. This is a dark film with so many beautiful pictures.
Let me turn to the grave digging scene, again, for it haunts this viewer. There are many haunting scenes including the meeting of the nun with the alto saxophone player, the night scenes of her encounters with the world and other tests of her life as she continues her quest. But for me, the most important model is affection, and even how love is played in this movie. Finding love in the movie is a difficult task. It was for me. Shall we say Red Wanda was towards the end of her life in her own way responsible for the lost Ida, an orphan, and finding her showed her familial love by leading her to her family? Ida through a bonding of kind with her Communist Aunt offered a kind of forgiveness for being left, orphaned. In this strange way of fate Ida, the Jewish child, became a Catholic nun. Ida was survivor of death through a kindness of the killer of her family who were Jewish and victims of the Holocaust. This occurred during the German occupation of Poland. It was a horrible, personal murder she survived. She survived because she was the right kind of Jewish little girl. Her family were killed as they were the wrong kind of Jews. This was a matter of evil and hate.
What way can Ida choose as she must decide to return to cloister after discovering her life and past so to take her vows as a nun? This is the question the film asks at the beginning. What love does she seek? Is it the love of the secular world? Is it the love of the Communist philosophy as exemplified in the life of her Aunt, Red Wanda? Is it the love of family alone? Or is it some kind of Agape love, some love of God in faith by her Church and life of living in the Way? What will she decide is the question posed throughout the film. Should she return to the cloister and hide from the world? Or does God’s love draw her?
In the scenes where the two women have a grave digger dig up the bones of relatives—their Jewish relatives who were murdered—was this an act of love by them or one of despair. For us it was despair and as viewers it was a terribly sad time. Who could say this was an act of love by the characters.
How sad. It was a series of scenes, showing historic ill and evil entering into the present and the good. How the history of cruelty and murder of Jewish people infected the present world.
The rest of this haunting and powerful film in this evocative tale of good and evil, complicated characters mixed in their histories of their own lives finding one another in relationship: the Communist Judge and drunken Aunt and the lovely and unworldly orphan who is now novice who is finding her past life, makes an excellent tale well worth telling. I say, see Ida released by Music Box Films. As one reviewer said, this is a film of lasting visual impact.
Cast and CreditsDirector: Pawel Pawlikowski
Screenwriters: Pawel Pawlikowski, Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Producers: Eric Abraham, Piotr Dzięcioł, Ewa Puszczyńska, Christian Falkenberg Husum
Cinematographers: Łukasz Żal, Ryszard Lenczewski
Production Designers: Katarzyna Sobańska, Marcel Sławiński
Editor: Jarosław Kamiński
Costume Design: Aleksandra Staszko
Music: Kristian Selin Eidnes Andersen
Principal Cast: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, Dawid Ogrodnik