Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Movie with Abe: Ida

Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
Released May 2, 2014

There are many films made about the Holocaust with a number of different focuses and viewpoints. Those that showcase life in Europe or in the United States in the aftermath of the Holocaust, when it is still a faint memory that has not yet been treated as an element of history but instead of the recent past, are particularly interesting because of the way in which they approach the subject. Those films produced by the countries in which the Holocaust was most prevalent and destructive are double intriguing. A fitting companion piece for the controversial “Aftermath,” Poland’s Oscar submission for Best Foreign Film,” Ida,” is an uncomfortable look at how one country confronted its darker side in the 1960s.

Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a nun preparing to take her vows. She has grown up in the convent as an orphan with no connection to whatever family she might have had. Before taking her vows, she is told that she has an aunt, Wanda (Agata Kulesza), and is encouraged to go see her before committing her life to the church. Upon meeting her one living relative, Anna discovers that she was born Jewish, and the reunion prompts Wanda to set out to learn what became of Anna’s parents and who was responsible.

The idea behind “Ida” is a fascinating and important one, exploring what shapes identity and how that changes when a life-defining piece of information such as an unknown religious heritage is discovered. It’s both enlightening and disturbing to see the people of Poland portrayed as almost indifferent to the horrific transformation of their country and the near-complete disappearance of one of its populations, as those approached by Wanda and Anna seem reluctant at best and defiantly dismissive at worst to discuss the Jewish past of their property or town.

This story in particular is an isolating one, as Anna is a quiet protagonist who lets her aunt and those around her do most of the talking. It’s clear that Anna says an enormous amount with her eyes and conveys deep feelings that don’t reach her lips, but it makes it hard to latch on to her as a character. Wanda, in contrast, is bold and unconcerned with what anyone else thinks, more than ready to speak her mind on any occasion even if others might advise her to hold her tongue. Nuance and moodiness work to strengthen the effect of this film, but it’s difficult to permeate its dense, uninviting exterior and to latch on to its slow-moving story. This unsettling film may be thought-provoking and haunting, but it doesn’t demand and command the attention of its audience in the way it should.


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