Ida (film)

Ida (directed by Pawel Pawlikowski)/2013

Ida is a film about the dichotomy between the reality of human existence and the social norms and expectations that reality laughs in the face of.

It is shot in black and white, again symbolising duality, yet the overall texture of the film is thick soft grey; scenes always look either foggy or cloudy as if to also say that that is the final outcome of our existence: a grey river that flows by nonchalantly.

Ida is a girl who grew up in a convent as an orphan in post WWII Poland.  The film opens with the montage sequence of her going about her chores at the convent.  It all seems very peaceful, quiet and…boring.

Before she takes her final vows to become a nun, the head nun tells her to go visit her aunty (her sole surviving family member) and stay as long as she needs to.  Ida is reluctant but she is made to go.

The initial impression of the aunty, Wanda, is that she is a “woman of ill repute”.  She's in her dressing gown smoking a cigarette with a man getting dressed and leaving.  The director plays with our preconceptions and teases the audience with purported misrepresentation.  She casually says to Ida “So, you’re a Jewish catholic”.  Ida takes this news in without much reaction.  Here we find a first major challenge to the social expectation, the idea of the deep rootedness of our religious identity where in reality Ida does not seem fazed by the potential conflict.  Wanda tells Ida to go back to the convent and leaves for work where we find out that she's actually a Judge.

As Wanda is watching a criminal trial unfold before her, we sense that she’s thinking about Ida.  She changes her mind and decides to take Ida in.  They go on a road trip to a small town to find out more about their family.  All the while, Wanda is chain smoking and vodka sculling (as a respectable Judge would! – another contradiction) and Ida is treated by everyone they come across like a divinity; people bless her and ask for her blessing.  Ida is quietly surprised but enjoys the attention and feeling of holiness.

The pair finds where Ida's parents used to live before they were killed and their house and land taken over.  Ida ends up blessing the child whose family had murdered her parents.  One would expect some kind of reaction at the realisation of this absurdity: Christians murdering Ida's parents who were powerless Jews in the time of the NAZI occupation of Poland.  But Ida takes all this in relatively calmly.  Kim Ki-duk often plays with these kind of themes but Pawliokowski presents them in a more subtle and gentle manner.

Wanda and Ida spends a night in a rural town where Ida meets a young handsome saxophonist.  Here we see cracks appear in Ida's facade of divine authority.  Isn't it a truly human reaction to not feel anything when you learn of the tragic passing of your parents you never knew, but be shaken by a stranger you long for? This debunks the ye old canon that blood is thicker than water etc. etc.

Wanda comments what sacrifice it would be if Ida had not experienced carnal love before giving up herself to god; you don't know what you're missing out on girl!  When Ida lets her hair down (literally) and spends a night smoking, drinking and making love we wonder whether she is experimenting or whether she is grieving: over her aunty, over her suffering and sacrifice to come and celebrating the life time of her vow to god?  Or is it everything just coming together in a blur of soft grey?

The next morning she asks the saxophonist what would happen to them and the conversation is along the lines of:

"Come with my band to this beach side town, we’ll eat ice cream and go to the beach"

"And then?"
“We can get a small dog”
“And then?”
“We’ll have children and live in the country”
“And then?”
“…”

Perhaps the dialogue demonstrates the futility of the common life just as much as how Wanda saw the life of a nun as a "waste".  What is a worthwhile life?  Is it the suffering and sacrifice that has the ultimate value? Because in the end, without constant temptation and resistance, there is only "and then?"

Disclaimer: I realise now my constant reference to grey and this is in no relation to "50 shades"


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