Astrology: Film: Review: ‘Ida’ (2014)

Music Box Films

Music Box Films

Can a sacrificial offering really count if the person making the gesture has no clear idea of the value of what’s she’s giving up? That’s the question at the heart – literally – of  Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida, a Polish-language movie whose breathtakingly austere black and white cinematography underscores the all-or-nothing dimensions of its subject and setting.

The film starts with a newly painted statue of the open armed Sacred Heart of Jesus being moved back onto its pedestal by several postulants at a convent in rural Poland in the 1960s. Sister Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), who has been raised there, is one of the young women set to take her vows shortly. But Mother Superior, who knows a bit more of Anna’s back story, has an assignment for the girl to fulfil before she enters into a life long spiritual marriage.

Obeying an order that evokes, for a second, The Sound of Music’s Maria’s being sent off into the real world as a temporary nanny for Captain von Trapp’s children, the preternaturally innocent Anna winds up in Warsaw to meet her aunt Wanda, her only living relative who years ago opted not to remove the girl from the convent. Suddenly the movie is deeply into the family archetype represented by the Moon: childhood, home roots, the family community of Church sisters and an unknown blood relative. It’s a set up that, no doubt, will provoke some significant choices on Anna’s part.

It turns out Aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza) is one severe piece of work. She smokes, drinks, brings men home and once enjoyed a career as a government prosecutor. She also wastes no time pointing out that Anna’s roots are Jewish and her birth name was Ida, therefore making her a “Jewish nun.” While sorting through old photos, however, Wanda softens and the pair decide to learn the location of the final resting place of their family members who had vanished during World War II.

The ensuing trip, which includes Ida’s meeting Lis (Dawid Ogrodnik), a hip alto sax musician who’s part of a jazz group, is an engrossing contrast between Ida’s and Wanda’s respective lifestyles. Ida politely turns her back on her new surroundings but, as Wanda intimates, there can be no sacrifice unless you have first-hand knowledge about the prize you’re forsaking.

In part, Ida addresses its Holocaust theme through music – Wanda’s classical preferences vs. the hipster’s predilection for John Coltrane’s splendid “Naima” – and explores whether the old ways, such as a secluded convent life, is still a valid choice for a younger generation of women. In addition to having Anna/Ida define who her family members truly are, Pawlikowski seems to be asking the same of his native country. The groove is in the heart.

Astrology Film Rating: ☽ (Moon)

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