Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Ida is a Polish film set in Communist-ruled Poland apparently in the early 1960s. When the story starts, "Ida" is Anna, a young novice on the verge of taking her vows at a convent she has lived in since she was orphaned as a child. Prior to her professing her vows, however, she is told that she has an aunt living and directed to go to visit her. Wanda, her late mother's sister, turns out to be a Jew, which means, of course, that Anna too is a Jew. From her aunt, she learns not only her real name - Ida - but a bit of the family background. Ida and Wanda set out to find out what they can about the wartime fate of her parents and hopefully find their grave. In the process, there ensues the predictable process of mutual discovery of each other as each comes to terms with her, their family's, and their country's complicated past.

The black-and-white film, complete with omnipresent cigarette smoke, well captures the look and feel of the time - especially the run-down, dreary world of communist Poland and the run-down dreary world of those compelled to live in such a society. This is particularly highlighted by the unhappy, chain-smoking, alcoholic Wanda, who, it turns out, is a judge and was once (back in the early 50s) a fairly famous (or notorious, depending on one's politics) state prosecutor in the cause of Stalinist ideology. So, while both Wanda and Ida are forced to come to terms the tragic wartime history of their family, Wanda must also come to terms with where he communist past has led her, while Ida has to figure out what all this means for her future.

In deference, I presume, to contemporary sensibilities, Ida meets the obligatory handsome young man. Her vocational crisis (if that is what we should call it) seems at first almost as if it were postscript to the main theme. In the end, however, it pulls the story together, as Ida's last conversation with him causes her (and presumably the audience) to consider the meaning (or lack thereof) not just of an absurd communist ideology, but of ordinary, secular life. Religious life, however dreary in its own way as portrayed in the movie, makes for a serious contrast not only with communisms's sham and oppressive ideology but with the apparent purposelessness of its secular alternatives.

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