You’ve probably heard, because these things get quite a coverage, about the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film going to a Polish movie called Ida. And you may have wondered what all the fuss is about – Oscars, BAFTAs, what’s going on?
What’s going on is actually quite a normal occurrence when skilled artists start working on a solid, authentic material. Because Ida is a well-made, well acted film with meticulous cinematography reinforcing the historically accurate portrayal of a conflicted, tragic time and the people who were caught in it. Great historical events have such an enormous scope that it’s difficult, sometimes, to even mentally align them with the individual, local dimension of a single person’s life, and stories like that have always been captivating. “One man’s struggle to reconnect to his son against the backdrop of the Civil War” – we’ve seen it many times and will want to see it again.
Except that’s not quite it.
Because Ida is not a story like that. It’s not a story where the historical context serves as scenery to an individual’s struggle; it’s a story of what happens when you can’t really tell where Grand History ends and personal life begins. Yes, it is about the consequences of World War Two. About what happened to people after it all ended on paper, but continued to cast its shadow. Like it does even now, in 2016. Yes, it’s a story largely determined by WW2, by the Holocaust, by the subsequent crimes of the Communist Regime. All of them are well known history lessons which we’ve got down pat.
And what makes the film so great is that it takes these history lessons and turns them back into life. A young woman who doesn’t even know she’s Polish Jewish, because it was safer that way. It was safer to give the child away and raise it as someone else. A child that lost culture to gain a life – these cases were very common. These people were and still are part of our families. And sometimes we don’t know. Sometimes they’re hiding it even now, when they’re eighty, because some habits stick, survival habits among them.
What would it mean to one’s life? To take something which was buried this deep and is now torn out into the light? The young woman whose life seemed to have a very strict and obvious direction – a monastery – now finds it all uprooted. And her aunt, who had ingrained herself so well in the new order that, from the oppressed, she turned into oppressor. These are not history lessons. This is life.
The film is carried by two great actresses. One an established and respected professional – Anna Kulesza – and the other a complete newcomer, a student named Anna Trzebiatowska. By complete chance, she was seen in a cafe by a talented Polish director, Małgorzata Szumowska, and it was she who introduced the girl to Paweł Pawlikowski, on a hunch. Art finds a way, it seems.