Music Box Films
Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Grade:  B
Director:  Pawel Pawlikowski
Screenplay:  Pawel Pawlikowski, Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Cast:  Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, Dawid Ogrodnik, Joanna Kulig
Screened at:  Critics’ Link, NYC, 8/2/14
Opens:  September 9, 2014 on DVD and Blu-ray and VOD.  Theatrical opening May 2, 2014.

Director Pawel Pawlikowski, is known to cineastes largely for his passionate “My Summer of Love,” which charts a meeting between women with opposite predilections; one a tomboy looking for an alternative to the emptiness of life, the other  cynical, spoiled and well-educated.  You can see that “Ida” is right up the director’s alley as now he posits two women as opposite as they can be; one a naïve 18-year-old committed to taking vows in a convent, the other a hardened Communist member who, as a judge in the Poland of the 1960s sent people to their deaths.  “Ida” has twists that are usually associated with the works of John Le Carré except that in this case the changes that occur to the title character pull her in opposite directions at the age of 18 when, for the first time in her life, she encounters emotions and epiphanies wholly unknown to a young, sheltered woman.

“Ida” is an austere film, black-and-white, illustrating a wintry week in Poland that should make the citizenry cry out for some time in sunny Spain or Greece.  Likewise, it shows a convent stripped of any sign of luxury, the nuns eating their soup nightly in silence which could make movie-goers think of the Danish religious group in “Babette’s Feast,” arguably the greatest movie about food.  Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is called in for a conference with the Mother Superior shortly before she is about to take her vows, urged to meet her Aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), a woman she had not known since Anna was placed in an orphanage near the beginning of her life.  Wanda shocks Anna by exposing the young woman’s true identity as Ida, a Jew whose parents were killed and buried in Poland during the Holocaust by a man who had originally hidden them from the Nazis, then apparently had a change of heart, fearing he would be found out and executed.  The news is taken by Ida without signs of emotion.  With her beady eyes and poker face, she gives nary a clue to what’s going on in her soul.

As she goes through the steps of locating the burial ground of her parents, Ida and her aunt get to know each other and while Ida would probably think little of the chain-smoking, drinking Communist party official, she does get valuable advice from Wanda, which is, get to know what you’re missing before your consider taking your vows.  She does exactly that after her aunt picks up a handsome saxophonist who invites the two women to one of his gigs.

“Ida” calls for a patient audience, one that does not need to look at the watch during long takes, e.g. when Ida walks slowly and deliberately to the monastery.  The acting is spot-on.  The innocent girl is called a “saint” by her aunt who describes herself as a “slut.”  This is a film of ideas, examining the conformity of Communism, the “corruption” of an innocent, and the self-hatred of a party official.  Director Pawlikowski makes no effort to universalize the experience, situating the action at a time and place in history in which Poland, having survived the horrors of Nazism, must know deal with the absurdities of Communism.

Rated PG-13.  80 minutes.  © 2014 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B


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By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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