On Wednesday, Sept. 17, the Film Society hosted a screening of the Polish film “Ida” in Hayden 100. Although the film was entirely in Polish with English subtitles, it didn’t detract from the sheer beauty of the cinematography and the powerful script. The film chronicles an orphan, Ida, who grew up in a convent in 1960s Poland. Her quiet, routine life is upset suddenly by learning she has an aunt outside her ordered world inside the convent. She journeys to find her last connection to a family she has never known. Ida and her aunt contrast sharply in personality and lifestyle, but together they fervently try to find the past and then deal with the repercussions drudging up the past can sometimes bring, especially if the past is a particularly painful one.
Poland in the 1960s was a time that followed great tragedy in Poland’s history. World War II devastated the Polish people. Three million Polish Jews were murdered during the events of the war and for the time after the war Jewish relations hadn’t recovered. Poland was on the road to recovery at the time the movie was set, but the not-so-distant past was filled with intense grief and tragedy, a tragedy that has touched all the main characters in the film.
The movie is entirely in black and white and although most people find that frustrating, it was essentially a beautiful choice by director Pawel Pawlikowski. The cinematic choice of filming in black and white brought a feeling of antiquity to the film. It allowed the director play with light and contrast that can emphasize the light and dark aspects of the two central characters, Ida and her aunt, Wanda. Ida is often portrayed as lighter and her aunt as darker, reflecting their outlook on life.
The key thematic elements of the film are family, identity, memories, grief and choice. It is a brilliant movie that makes you think about family and what it means to be a part of a family, even if it’s not in the traditional sense of the word. It makes you think about love. It makes you try to understand how people can enter your life, touch it so deeply, change everything you believe in and then simply vanish.
Pawlikowski’s story and the story of Ida reflect the same idea of returning home. This is Pawlikowski’s return to Polish film, the film of his homeland, after directing mostly English films. Returning home is a huge theme in Ida’s life as well, considering the whole movie is about learning where you came from to learn who you are. Her return to a home that she never knew she had and learning her family’s history changed her in paramount ways. “Ida” is a tragically beautiful piece on how people can change your life, but ultimately you decide what life you want to live. The power lies in you.