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Ida – Movie Review

IdaIda – Movie Review by Frank L.
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Writers: Pawel Pawlikowski, Rebecca Lenkiewicz,
Stars: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, Dawid Ogrodnik

Pawel Pawlikoski was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1957, at the height of the cold war, where his mother was a lecturer in English. At the age of 14 he left Poland and via Germany eventually arrived in England. He now lives in Paris. He has therefore a European sensibility of some considerable stretch. His work includes the Bafta award winning Last Resort and My Summer of Love. With Ida he embraces for the first time the complexities of Poland, his childhood home.

The Second World War was for Poland a disaster of unimaginable proportions. Its legacy will continue for a long time in both the public and private domain. When and where the consequences will manifest themselves can never be predicted. Pawlikoski, who also wrote the script together with Rebecca Lenkiewicz, chooses to place for Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) the revelation of the consequences about twenty years after she was left, as a foundling, in the care of a remote, rural convent. The infant is now a novitiate, on the verge of making her final vows as a nun. The Mother Superior insists that she make contact with her aunt, her only known relative, who up until then had not shown any desire to meet her. The Aunt is an apparatchik of the new Communist State, a state prosecutor, but her equilibrium has become unbalanced by a fondness for alcohol and late night carousing. They meet in the aunt’s apartment and despite the great differences in their ages and the lives they have led, there is a wary respect between them. The Aunt knows that Anna was born Jewish and that Ida is her true name. She drops this bomb shell into the conversation without warning. She has photographs including one of Anna/Ida with her parents as an infant. Anna wants to know what happened to them. The Aunt knows that there is a person in the village where they lived who may know the precise fate of Anna’s parents. Up until now she has not chosen to find out. Anna and the Aunt set off together in the Aunt’s car to try to discover the precise fate of Anna’s parents. As it turns out it is a mutual journey of exhumation.

On the journey they stop to pick up a hitchhiker, a handsome youth (Dawid Ogrodnik), who happens to play saxophone in a band. He shows a sensibility to the young novitiate sitting in front of the car who is whimsically beautiful even with the hood of a novitiate encasing her head. The journey takes them to a small town where the band is playing John Coltrane to an audience of collar and tied men and hair back-combed women. The Aunt and Anna/Ida share a bedroom in the local hotel where the band is playing and the differences in their lives comes into stark contrast. The Aunt’s knowledge enables her to seek out the person she suspects does know what happened to the parents, contact is made but the man is dying in hospital. His distrustful and fearful son, who is exceedingly uncomfortable with this unwanted delving into the past, approaches Anna/Ida and in a grubby deal motivated by his obsessive need to secure legally the house which belonged to Anna’s parents, he agrees to lead Anna/Ida and the Aunt to where the parents are buried. The exhumation takes place and reveals more information than just the fate of Anna’s parents. Anna/Ida and the Aunt have to handle the issues which the exhumation reveals which Pawlikoski does with dexterity.

Pawlikowski raises many sensitive issues which are still potent in Poland. His skill as a film maker enables him to create breathtaking close up frames which in their simplicity, in black and white, underline the various dilemmas which each character faces. Time and again close ups of Anna, the Aunt and the youth reveal their doubts and their certainties. Agata Trzebkuchowska as Anna makes her film debut in what can only be called a masterly performance. Agata Kulesza gives an commandingly assured performance as the Aunt which evokes a range of emotions as she faces into the latter part of mid- life where the knocks along the way have been a great deal tougher than the fleeting rewards. Pawlikowski has created a work of art which also delineates the frailties and contradictions which underlie Poland and its citizens after the ravages of the twentieth century. It is a triumph of which he can be justly proud.

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