Wanda initially seems to be a hard and hard-drinking broad. She informs her niece, matter-of-factly, “So, you are a Jewish nun.” Anna learns that she is in fact Ida Lebenstein, whose parents Roza and Haim were killed during World War II.
But, like Anna/Ida, Wanda turns out to be a more complicated character than we assumed—a state prosecutor known to impose death sentences—and she softens towards her niece. Because the novice wants to visit the graves of her parents, they embark on a voyage in space as well as time. As they search for the 1940s neighbors who hid—and perhaps killed—her parents, Ida’s faith is tested.
The characters are consistently placed so low in the frame that the unpopulated space above them seems to weigh down. Is Pawlikowski suggesting how far they are from heaven? Or does this space represent murdered Jews, taking up more room than the living?
Although Pawlikowski was born in Poland, he studied at Oxford, and began his career in British TV documentary. His first fiction feature, Last Resort (2000), was acclaimed at festivals including Sundance and Toronto, and My Summer of Love won the Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film at the 2005 BAFTA Awards. His most recent movie, The Woman in the Fifth, starred Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott-Thomas.
Ida is the director’s richest work to date. It’s not the only film to address the growing number of Poles who discover, as adults, that they were born Jewish. Nor is it unique in exploring the culpability of some Poles towards their Jewish neighbors during the Holocaust. The upcoming release Aftermath, for example, has stirred controversy in Poland for its depiction of wartime guilt. But if Aftermath could be considered a shout, Ida is a whisper, a series of revelations all the more devastating for their quiet presentation.
Annette Insdorf, author of Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust, has been moderating the Telluride Film Festival panels since 1980. © Copyright Annette Insdorf
IDA | Poland, 2013, 121m | Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Writers: Rebecca Lenczewski, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Pawel Pawlikowski
Starring: Agata Trzebuchowska