Santa Cruz Good Times

Thursday
Apr 02nd
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Habit Forming

fm idaFamily, history and religious vows collide in the powerful, intimate Polish drama 'Ida'

Who says size matters? At a mere 80 minutes, the Polish film Ida is a small miracle of economic storytelling, emotional complexity and astonishing scope. Co-written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, it is both an intimate, mostly two-character drama, and an unsparing and unsentimentalized look back on two tumultuous decades of Polish history, as told over the course of a few days in the life of a young woman. It's everything we want a film to be—focused, beautifully composed, surprising, and powerful.

Shot in expressive black and white by cinematographers Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal, the film begins within the fortress-like walls of a rural convent. It's about 1962, and Anna (lovely Agata Trzebuchowska), an 18-year-old novice, is an orphan raised in the convent. She has never known anything besides the orderly routines and obedience of convent life; meals are taken in silence, discipline is strict, and the young novitiates regularly prostrate themselves on the stone floor of the chapel before their wooden Christ.

Anna is about to take her vows. But before she can, the Mother Superior tells her she must visit her only remaining relative, an aunt she never knew she had who lives in the city. Anna doesn't want to leave the safety of the convent, but you don't say no to the Mother Superior. So the girl packs her small, plain suitcase and takes the train into another world.

Her Aunt Wanda (a superb Agata Kulesza) is a tough, hard-drinking, middle-aged court judge who sleeps with random men and has little interest in bonding with her niece. But she shows Anna an old photograph of her mother, tells the girl that her birth name was Ida—and drops the bombshell that their family was Jewish. Wanda is ready to send the girl packing again, but she relents, brings Anna back to her apartment from the station, and begins to reveal the history of their family.

It's a harrowing tale, dating back to the Nazi invasion of Poland, and continuing into the severity of the Communist era. But director Pawlikowski reveals it only in small, potent bits, as the two women set off on an impromptu odyssey, first to the farmhouse where Anna's family once lived, and then on a quest to find her parents' unmarked grave. Along the way, their fragile alliance is shattered and reformed, painful secrets are told, and a subtle portrait emerges of the troubled legacy left to a younger generation born out of chaos.

The relationship between these two women keeps us engaged. Anna disapproves of the caustic aunt who can't help goading her about her unquestioning compliance. (On the subject of sex, Wanda cracks, "You should try it, otherwise what kind of sacrifice are these vows of yours?") Yet, they learn to be strong for each other, too, on a shared journey toward truth and knowledge.

As Anna/Ida's story unfolds, Pawlikowski's inventive framing of each scene tells its own story. Inside the convent, Anna's head never occupies more than a small corner at the bottom of the frame under a vast expanse of empty walls, woodwork or ceiling. On their journey, Anna and Wanda are often seen in long shot, small figures in a larger landscape of time and events. (In a hotel, Anna stands at the top of a spiral staircase down to the bar where Western jazz is playing, as if contemplating a descent into hell.) But gradually, Anna moves toward the center of each frame and takes up more of it—growing into her identity, perhaps, or as her consciousness is raised.

This symbolism, along with Pawlikowski's concluding shot, are so open to interpretation, the film is almost interactive. I didn't realize how ambiguous the ending is until I found out my viewing companion had exactly the opposite idea of its meaning. Both interpretations are entirely plausible, and each makes sense in its way. The beauty of Ida is that, by the end, we are so thoroughly haunted by this quiet tale of life, loss and redemption that each viewer is eager to step in and supply the ending we want.


IDA *** 1/2 (out of four) With Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza. Written by Pawel Pawlikowski and Rebecca Lenkiewicz. Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. A Music Box films release. Rated PG-13. 80 minutes. In Polish with English subtitles.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Panel Discussion

After 39 years in business, the owner of Santa Cruz’s Atlantis Fantasyworld looks back at how comics have evolved

 

Passion Week, Eclipse, Full Moon, Aries Festival, Passover and Easter

We have entered a most important week of multiple festivals. Three ages and religious festivals—stages for humanity’s development—are occurring simultaneously. Aries (Age of Laws), Pisces (Age of Faith), and Aquarian (Age of Science and Humanity); Jewish, Christian/Catholic and Esoteric teachings. The first of the three Spring Festivals occurs Saturday along with the full moon, a total lunar eclipse (something in form and matter has come to an end, its usefulness completed). It’s also Passover, celebrating the passage from the Taurus to the Aries Age, symbolized by the Hebrew people’s walk of 40 years from Egypt through the Sinai Desert to Canaan (land of milk and honey), culminating with Moses receiving the 10 Commandments—laws that directed humanity through the Aries Age. Passover celebrates their safe passage out of Egypt, “the Angel passing over the Jewish homes, safeguarding their first born.” The Aries Festival (first of three Spring Festivals—Aries, Taurus, Gemini) celebrates the love of God. Accompanying the Aries light (light of life itself) are the forces of restoration (restoring humanity’s hope) and the spirit of resurrection (uplifting humanity in need of new education, resources, direction and guidance). Guidance to be given by the New Group of World Servers. Saturday’s solar Aries festival (at the full moon lunar eclipse) is celebrated by the New Group of World Servers worldwide. Join us everyone. Sunday is Easter, celebrated by humanity worldwide. The three religious festivals arriving simultaneously signal that the coming new world religion is at hand, a synthesis and integration of all religions. We stand with our brothers and sisters everywhere in celebration. We see what is no longer needed—that which created separations between us—disappear. We stand forward together in the new light, with the spirit of resurrection directing us. Hosanna!

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Let’s Get Wrecked

Unsung ’60s musicians score in pop doc ‘The Wrecking Crew’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Wheat Will Rock You

Companion Bakeshop scores again with Ryan Roseman’s harvest

 

What’s the best/worst April Fools’ Day prank you’ve ever heard?

This girl in my seventh grade class convinced our entire Christian school that she had cancer. Everybody started praying for her and stopped all the classes. At the end of the day she let everybody know it was an April Fools’ joke. Zach Scotton, Santa Cruz, Retail Manager

 

Odonata Wines

Easter is coming up this weekend, the perfect excuse to treat yourself and your loved ones to a little bit of bubbly with Easter brunch—and a special bubbly at that.

 

Ella’s at the Airport

Tiffany Ella King on her new fine dining restaurant in Watsonville