Friday, May 9, 2014


Sometimes you want your iconographic cake and eat it too. But sometimes the cake is a bit over the top. Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida, currently playing at Film Forum, is an imagery banquet. You have Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) the orphaned novice about to take her vows and her aunt Wanda Gruz (Agata Kulesza) a former partisan who becomes a powerful judge in the Communist era called “Red Wanda.” Just to make sure we know where we are, at least, cinematically the film is shot in black and white with the camera frequently panning through meaningful arbors of bare-branched trees. The judge, Ida’s aunt, is her one surviving relative and she’s become a drunk who sleeps around. “I’m a slut and you’re a little saint,” she tells her niece, along with the fact that lo in behold Ida is really Jewish, the daughter of Roza and Haim Lebenstein. What follows is a essentially a classic road movie with the two opposites on a mission to excavate the past. It’s as if you brought the famed Polish theater director Jerzy Grotowski back to direct a television melodrama, with the Catholic Church and the Holocaust providing the crucial pillars of the plot. Curiously when you think of Poland in the 50’s and 60’s with regard to cinema, you’re reminded of Andrzej Wajda who managed to make masterpieces like Ashes and Diamonds in spite of the censors and whose landscape was considerably broader and less contrived than the narrative that Ida relates. During a flashback to a trial scene in which Wanda presides the famous Polish diplomat and war hero Josef Pilsudski is mentioned and one hopes that some subtlety will be inserted amidst the rather obvious parallelism in which Pawlikowski’s otherwise sympathetic characters are trapped. Cineastes grow up on shots of depressing war torn Eastern Europe and its oppressive aftermath. But Ida is depressing in a remarkably unredemptive way. At the end Wanda picks up a thug in a bar and then jumps out the window and Ida, who has momentarily fallen in love with a jazz musician, returns to her convent. No one demands a happy ending to a lurid historical backdrop, but the self-abnegation here is almost too pat.

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