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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Ida

By
Kurt Jensen
Source: Catholic News Service


Agata Trzebuchowska stars in a scene from the movie "Ida."
The starkly beautiful minimalist masterpiece that is "Ida" (Music Box) adroitly navigates two horrific eras of Polish history as an aspiring nun discovers her true identity.

While brisk and unadorned at a brief 80 minutes, the film is nevertheless anything but simplistic. Director and co-writer (with Rebecca Lenkiewicz) Pawel Pawlikowski assumes that the audience knows something of the Holocaust in Poland, and of the Stalinist show trials to consolidate state power that followed the Soviet victory in World War II.

The story, set in a dismally cold 1962, has Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), an 18-year-old novice, about to take her vows. Her mother superior (Halina Skoczynska) summons Anna and tells her that she must first visit her Aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), her only living relative. Mother does not indicate what Anna can expect to learn from the encounter.

The life of the convent is the only existence Anna has ever known, since she was left there as an infant.

Wanda, a gruff, hard-drinking, chain-smoking former state prosecutor, wastes no time: "You're Jewish," she tells Anna as the two sit together at Wanda's kitchen table.

Anna's real name, Wanda explains, is Ida Lebenstein, and her parents were killed in a forest by people who were supposedly hiding them from the German invaders.

Brought up to be obedient, Anna/Ida takes all this in with a surprisingly calm air. She asks Wanda to help her find out more about what happened to her parents and their farm. Armed with her natural tenacity and -- as a communist insider -- with the rare luxury of a car, Wanda agrees.

What ensues is a road trip marked by Wanda's constant boozing, the pettiness of local authorities, and the dim atmosphere of a hotel jazz club where Ida eventually breaks out of her shell via a furtive romance with saxophonist Lis (Dawid Ogrodnik).

Complicating the search, her parents' farm is now owned by a family of Catholics who at first retort to Ida's inquiries, "No Jews ever lived here." At the same time, though, they ask Ida to bless their infant child.

Similar contradictions characterize the interaction between atheist Wanda and her believing niece. "What if you go there (i.e., her parents' former home) and discover there is no God?" she asks Ida early on. Later, returning from a night of dissolute partying to find Ida absorbed in prayer, Wanda snorts, "This Jesus of yours died for people like me!"

Wanda can't see what the church offers Ida, but the script doesn't necessarily support her view. Rather, it depicts Ida as a girl getting a late start on life, and her mother superior comes off as very wise for insisting that she see her aunt.

The tragic reality that Catholics participated in the slaughter of Jews is not concealed. But it's also shown that Stalinist Jews killed innocents as well.

A particularly touching scene has Wanda arranging, as a family tree, old photographs of relatives, presumably all victims of the Holocaust. Among the photos is one of Irena Sendler, the real-life Catholic nurse responsible for smuggling 2,500 Jewish children out of Poland.

In keeping with the complexities of the history with which he deals, Pawlikowski leaves his beautifully photographed film deliberately open-ended.

In Polish. Subtitles.

The film contains implied nonmarital sexual activity, a suicide and fleeting crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
Kurt Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.



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John Vianney: A man with vision overcomes obstacles and performs deeds that seem impossible. John Vianney was a man with vision: He wanted to become a priest. But he had to overcome his meager formal schooling, which inadequately prepared him for seminary studies. 
<p>His failure to comprehend Latin lectures forced him to discontinue. But his vision of being a priest urged him to seek private tutoring. After a lengthy battle with the books, John was ordained. </p><p>Situations calling for “impossible” deeds followed him everywhere. As pastor of the parish at Ars, John encountered people who were indifferent and quite comfortable with their style of living. His vision led him through severe fasts and short nights of sleep. (Some devils can only be cast out by prayer and fasting.) </p><p>With Catherine Lassagne and Benedicta Lardet, he established La Providence, a home for girls. Only a man of vision could have such trust that God would provide for the spiritual and material needs of all those who came to make La Providence their home. </p><p>His work as a confessor is John Vianney’s most remarkable accomplishment. In the winter months he was to spend 11 to 12 hours daily reconciling people with God. In the summer months this time was increased to 16 hours. Unless a man was dedicated to his vision of a priestly vocation, he could not have endured this giving of self day after day. </p><p>Many people look forward to retirement and taking it easy, doing the things they always wanted to do but never had the time. But John Vianney had no thoughts of retirement. As his fame spread, more hours were consumed in serving God’s people. Even the few hours he would allow himself for sleep were disturbed frequently by the devil. </p><p>Who, but a man with vision, could keep going with ever-increasing strength? In 1929, Pope Pius XI named him the patron of parish priests worldwide.</p> American Catholic Blog The most beautiful and spontaneous expressions of joy which I have seen during my life were by poor people who had little to hold on to. –Pope Francis

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