by Willard Manus
new film by the Polish-born director Pawel Pawlikowski, tells a haunting
and moving story. Set in the 1960s and shot in an austere, black and white
style that will
remind some of Robert Bresson, IDA centers on Ana (the first-time actress
Agata Trzebuchowska), an 18-year-old Catholic girl who has never known
anything but a convent life.
On the verge of taking her vows, Ana is called aside by the Mother Superior
and told that the diocese has just discovered that she is Jewish. Her
family, in flight from the Nazis, left her with the nuns to save her life.
Now that the truth has been uncovered,
Ana is free to leave the convent if she chooses--or to stay and become
Ana decides to leave, if only to track down her one surviving relative,
her aunt Wanda (Agneta Kulesza), a judge in the Communist legal system,
and to discover just how and where her parents died during the German
occupation of Poland. Wanda, a hard-boiled and disillusioned woman, at
first refuses to help Ana, feeling that the past is best left untouched
and unexplored. It's too steeped with blood and pain, she says.
Wanda, we soon learn, was once a hanging judge for the Stalinists, a fact
that now weighs heavily on this near-alcoholic wreck of a woman. But in
the end she takes pity on her painfully innocent niece and they set out
on a journey into the rural heart of Poland, the countryside where Ana's
parents once owned a farm.
IDA then begins to explore a part of Poland's repressed history, a history
of anti-semitism and barbarism. The family farm, Ana and Wanda learn,
was now owned by the very man who betrayed and then murdered their kin.
And if they didn't leave the premises, he warns them, he might kill them
as well. Ana and Wanda take this threat seriously, but before they depart
they manage to dig up the remains of their loved ones.
The legacy of the Holocaust and the grim realities of post-war Poland
stay at the forefront of IDA. But a love story between Ana and a young
jazz musician helps to inject the proceedings with some warmth and humanity,
keep it from becoming a grim and
didactic history lesson. There is also an element of suspense: which world
will Ana choose to live in--the secular or the sacred?
IDA won the Fipresci Prize at the Toronto International Film Festival--and
it's sure to find its way into the hearts and minds of many serious moviegoers.