February 23, 2015


"Ida"--winner of Oscar for Best Foreign Picture--is shot in black and white to reflect 1960's Poland in which the film is set. The first thing you notice about the film is that it not only looks like a black and white still come to life, the movement and action and actors themselves are very "still." When director Pawlikowski accepted the Academy Award he acknowledged this fact about the film by saying: "My film is very contemplative and silent and here we are in Hollywood, the center of noise and being seen!" The cinematographer is also a photographer specializing in black and white.

"Ida" is a novice in a Roman Catholic convent. She was an orphan, raised at the same convent. Her only living relative is her aunt who has sent for her before she makes her vows. Ida doesn't want to go visit her, but the Mother Superior tells her she must. Ida discovers that she is Jewish, and the story evolves from there, and, as you can imagine, becomes a Holocaust film. (It would be well to see this film in conjunction with "The Jewish Cardinal," which deals at length with the controversy of a Carmelite convent opening at Auschwitz in the 1980's.)

Although the work of the Nazis, many of the concentration camps where the Jewry of Europe met their deaths were located in Poland. The film "Ida" points to all of this with bald contrasts, in a seeming effort to stir accountability. But whose accountability? Please see "Comments" on this review for another side of the story! Non-Jewish Poles were also disproportionately decimated by both the Nazis and Communists--there seemed to be some kind of particular hatred of Poland, "doormat of Europe," by these evil regimes. Perhaps it was Poland's unbreakable, faithful, deep-rooted Catholicism that was such an affront to both Nazis and Communists alike. Or perhaps any homogeneous religious culture with God at its center (and the accompanying refusal to bow to raw, abusive, illegitimate human power) would have affected the same virulent, violent disdain.

Despite Poland's proverbial anti-Semitism, many non-Jewish Poles were heroic in saving their Jewish neighbors, to the point where Poland outpaces other countries in "Righteous Among the Nations." http://www.patheos.com/blogs/cosmostheinlost/2015/02/23/1-thing-nobody-noticed-about-oscar-best-foreign-film-winner-ida/ Poles were also the first to report on the existence of concentration camps to the West (which fell on deaf ears).

The dialogue is sparse but not stingy. Ida is the most reticent of all. Is she happy? Is she sad? Does she really want to make her vows? If so, why or why not? Who is she, even? What does this austere convent life mean to her? But we DO know, without a full psychological profile. Just listen to her talking to the Sacred Heart.

Ida's final decision is not so much unexpected as an exposition of the very real reason many of us are/are not in religious life. I really, really liked her simple, logical, eternity-centered reasoning. If I am reading the film right, only someone from the Catholic country of Poland could have made this film.



  1. Very interesting that the trailer is set to a famous chorale prelude of J.S. Bach, transcribed for piano. I would need to study more closely to discern if this is the famous recording by pianist Alfred Brendel.

    The chorale prelude, "Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ" (1706-1717), was written by Bach based on the hymn text of Johann Agricola (1529), and formed part of a collection of preludes that he composed for the liturgical year.

    Here is a translation of the first stanza of the hymn. Does it have any connection to the heroine or to the motif of the film?
    I call to thee, Lord Jesus Christ,
    I pray thee, hear my crying;
    Both lend me grace within this life
    And let me not lose courage;
    The proper path, O Lord, I seek,
    Which thou didst wish to give me:
    For thee living,
    My neighbor serving well,
    Thy word upholding justly.

  2. http://youtu.be/OALt13mcxJg

  3. Yes, it has everything to do with the story! Thanks for this!

  4. Anonymous12:09 AM

    Are there any movies since, say, 1965 in which a woman on the fence decides to stay a religious? I think maybe the one about the Immaculata basketball team, but no one others. To be fair to The Sound of Music, it was based on reality...

  5. Anonymous8:45 PM

    I'm afraid that the alleged anti-Semitism of Poland that this film and common 'knowledge' promote is actually a residue of Communist propaganda.
    Camps were located in Poland because it made most sense to Nazis from the technical point of view - from the location to the fact that there were so many Jews in Poland. And why were there so many Jews in Poland if it's such a xenophobic and anti-Semitic country? Because since the middle ages it provided a safe haven to them and accepted them with their whole cultural and religious identity. When there were massacres all around Europe in Reinessance, Jews (and other persecuted religious and cultural groups) would flee to Poland. They found not only peace, but the space to prosper and grow.
    By the 20th century Jewish communities were so developed and prominent that they had started to annoy some people who would use the age-old argument for political leverage - those pesky foreigners taking over our economy, that sound familiar in any way? - except the weren't really foreigners, they were Jewish Poles. They identified as both, which is a very important thing to understand about how they functioned in the world and kept their national identity despite the centuries without their own country. However, there were many rural places were Jewish communities were practically self-governed and orthodox to the point of seclusion and hostility towards any outside influence. They met with hostility in return, because of course - ignorance and just plain neighbour squabbles are always prominent in these situations. Late 19th and early 20th century were the time when the issue of fuller integration of all Jews was vital and much discussed. Poland was a country striving to preserve its identity under tyranny; Jews had it double difficult there.
    To be continued

  6. Anonymous8:45 PM


    In the independent country Jewish Poles fought as hard for as all other Poles (which, by the way, created one of the first democratic constitutions in Europe, also giving women full civil rights as a matter of course), Jews were vital parts in efforts to rebuild the country, present in every aspect of public life, making up a big percentage of businessmen, entertainers, educators, scientists. Then Germany invaded and Russia "helped". Most of the Polish intelligentsia was eliminated; Jews were being exterminated outright, Slavs were meant to be slaves first. There was nothing Polish about the concentration camps. They were built by Poles only in the sense that the prisoners themselves were made to build them. Were they people who betrayed their neighbours to Germans? Tragically, yes - but they usually didn't do it from hate, just from fear. I'm not saying it makes the act any less evil, I'm saying the motivation wasn't any different than giving away any other person wanted by an occupant. And the heroism was no different, either. There are more trees in Yad Vashem monument for Poles than for any other nation.
    Poles have never been intolerant until there came the plague of communism. And communist propaganda with its aggresive narrative looked for class wars and every reason to make Poles hate each other. (Oh, but the real enemy has always been fascism, right? It's not like THEY had camps, or been allied to Germany, pff.) And the thing is, the West treated their Russians very seriously. (They would know how things worked in "their territory", right?) It was convenient to some and irrelevant to others that "Polish concetration camps" became a thing.
    The myth of an intolerant Poland was and still is used as a tool to discredit the very Catholic national identity and traditions (the Church is obviously a synonym of intolerant fanatics, right?), it's only (and only slightly) changed who does it.
    What I'm saying is, it's very hard for me to see someone whose judgement I rely on in other diciplines being so misled about something so important. Ida itself is highly manipulative, very much strays from the truth not only of the story it's based on, but also of the situational reality. And saying that Poland is "very anti-Semitic" is extremely hurtful, even if I've heard it from Poles, too. I understand how this notion comes about, but it's just not true. I just wanted you to know that.

    - Philopator

    1. Thanks so much for your comments here. I have adjusted the review. I guess I have read accounts and seen soooo many historical films and docs that paint the Polish people as a whole as extremely anti-Semitic. The sheer volume convinced me. I've instructed readers in my revised blog post to read your Comments!