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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Ida (2014)

This is a road movie.  It is a journey into the past to discover one's roots, and it is not a happy story.  Ida was dropped at an orphanage in a Catholic convent at the end of WWII, and it is now 1962.  She is raised as Anna and is on the brink of taking her vows, but her Mother Superior insists that she go to talk with her aunt, Wanda, who has steadfastly refused to adopt her throughout her life.  Ida is resistant but she is left with no choice.   She meets Wanda, a worldly, hard-drinking woman who lives on her own and is a magistrate and a communist zealot. Bleary, boozy Wanda reveals the truth to her niece: Anna’s name was originally Ida Lebenstein and she is Jewish. Wanda proposes they go on a road trip together to discover what became of Ida’s parents during the war. It is something Wanda herself has clearly been dreading, and she has also been dreading Ida’s arrival in her life. Now she must face up to her own memories (and while I won't go into details, it doesn't end well for her.

Theirs is a journey into the heart of Poland’s church and state, into its Catholicism and anti-Semitism. The nun’s habit and her girlish, almost childlike demeanor enforce a reflex respect from the people she meets: clearly, the prestige it confers is not to be abandoned lightly – it is all that she has. Conversely, the irascible Wanda stirs up the past and riles everyone with tactless questions about Ida’s Jewish parents. She knows, and they know, that there were collaborators, but also those who helped and hid Jews – and still others whose behavior was ambiguous. Despite the grim back drop, the black and white filming, and the paucity of speech, this is a moving and thought-provoking film, worthy of the Best Foreign Language Film award it won at the Oscars last week.

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