Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Ida: A Novitiate Nun in Communist Poland
Communist Poland, a vow of poverty hardly mattered. For one nun in training,
the most challenging part of her novitiate will be meeting her sole living
relative. It leads to some profound soul searching in Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
life is all Anna has ever known. Orphaned as an infant, the young woman will
soon take her vows, but the mother superior insists she first visit her aunt
Wanda. Neither has been pining to meet the other, in part because of what they
represent. While Anna identifies with Poland’s strong Catholic tradition, Wanda
is a notorious Stalinist era prosecutor and judge. “Red Wanda” as she is known,
now lives a boozy, solitary existence, only occasionally relieved by brief “carnal”
distractions. When Anna arrives unannounced, Red Wanda reveals the young woman’s
true identity, almost as an act of hostility. Anna was actually born Ida
Lebenstern to Jewish parents who perished during the war.
her abrasive welcome, Red Wanda quickly warms to her niece, agreeing to set out
with her in search of her parents’ remains. It will be a rather tricky task,
given their sketchy information. Simultaneously, Red Wanda does her best to
play Anna’s devil-on-the-shoulder, trying to convince her to sample some of
life’s more adult pleasures before she completely renounces the secular world.
Ida might be opening
May 2nd (the day after May Day), but audience members should take a
heavy coat to the theater, because it is one of the chilliest films you will
ever see. 1962 was a relatively stable period for Communist Poland (compared to
the subsequent anti-Semitic campaign and imposition of martial law), but it was
still a time of scarcity and drabness. Nonetheless, jazz was on the upswing
with the smart set and not yet explicitly on the outs with the authorities. It
just so happens, Lis, a talented saxophonist gigging at their provincial hotel,
attracts Wanda’s leering stare and the awkwardly demur notice of her niece.
on the heels of Władsław Pasikowski’s more confrontational Aftermath, Ida is clearly
part of Poland’s continuing effort to process the national WWII experience,
long deferred during the Communist era. However, this is a more personal meditation on identity and family. It is also
unusually beautiful, in a severe, ascetic way. Ryszard Lenczewski & Lukasz Zal’s
black-and-white cinematography is absolutely arresting, while Pawlikowski strikingly
composes each shot, dwarfing his figures against imposing backdrops.
within such a frame is quite a challenge, but newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska
seems to grow along with her character, Anna/Ida, as the film progresses. Without
question though, Agata Kulesza’s Red Wanda is the most successful breaking out
of Pawlikowski’s frozen tableaux with her sharp elbows and razor-like tongue.
Dawid Orognik also shows flashes of presence as Lis, while Joanna Kulig briefly
catches the eye and ear as Lis’s band singer.
The British-based Pawlikowski makes a bold
statement with his first Polish production, aesthetically and thematically. His
deliberate pace and dark vision will
limit Ida’s appeal even within
arthouse circles, but it is an ambitious work of auteur level cinema. Recommended
for disciplined cineastes, Ida opens
this Friday (5/2) in New York at Film Forum.
Labels: Pawel Pawlikowski, Polish Films