Posted by: Peadar Ban | March 21, 2015

IDA: A Film for People Who Hope, Who Believe, Who Think

Last week, to mark a Big Birthday, we sneaked away for a few days to a quiet place on the shore of the sea. One night, while outside the wind roared in from the North for one last big blow and waves ran right up to the sea wall just across the street from us, we nestled down in front of the fireplace in our room. It was St. Patrick’s Day, and somewhere drums were being drummed, pipers were piping and songs were sung. It being too cold to march in the Parade, we sat instead in our room by the wind-blown sea and watched this year’s Best Foreign Film, the Polish movie called “Ida.” It was already on our list, but we bumped it up after reading an article about it last week. The author complained that Catholics are not talking about it despite the fact that it is very much a Catholic work and all the more worth seeing for that, in addition to its prize winning status. And, she continued: “If you’re a Catholic, you’d best be consuming good art.” Not only that, ” the Catholic Church used to be THE greatest creator and patron of the arts in the WORLD. We need to step it up once again.”

Thus challenged and primed, we settled back

Most immediately I was reminded of those bleak works that came out of Scandinavia in the 1960’s when I was a young fellow, about Man’s search for meaning or something; all of them dealing in one way or another with death, illness, faith, betrayal, bleakness, insanity — or dealing with all of those things at once. I was reminded, too, of parts of Zorba the Greek, the ones without the dancing and drinking, though there’s some of that in this film too. The Scandinavian films most often were shown in what came to be called “art” houses where black was the required dress,and the required mood. Zorba made it to Times Square when human beings still went there.

We watched “Ida” on my wife’s Mac Book, which, well, neither means nor proves a thing. And other than helping you guess my age, neither do my references and memories above mean much!

Bleak it was, and all of those other things. Postwar Poland may have been a more hospitable place than the Gobi Desert in January, but not by much I’ll bet. And that’s where we find ourselves as the film begins in bareness: in a convent among three young postulants preparing for their final vows. It’s bleak, yes, but there’s much more going on there that the bleakness hides, if you let it. And as I think, now, about what I watched not yet a week ago, I begin to see behind the bleak curtain and make out the, to me anyway, simply incredible richness of the thing.

I’ll give you a very small example. There is a glance exchanged between two characters at the beginning of the film, the briefest of things that takes place during a very silent meal . That glance might have been expanded to a scene or two in any other film with all the action and dialogue “thereunto appertaining.” In another scene about midway through the film, during another meal where these two characters are present only one of them looks at the other. The “unreturned” glance could be the film’s pivot, because very soon Anna, the young novice whose past the film uncovers (including her real name, Ida) is outside the convent in the world, the clunky, falling apart place that was Poland, the postwar Communist worker’s paradise.

We meet her one surviving relative, an aunt, who tells her, with all of a serpent’s tenderness, that she is a Jew. Classical music plays in the background during this scene in her aunt’s apartment, a modern, liberated woman, a state prosecutor, and one begins to understand … because one has to since not a word is said … that the aunt “believes” in nothing.

And while we, the audience, observe, Ida, too, observes. Later, she prays. Simply, silently. For what does she pray I found myself wondering. The camera lingers often on her open, and innocent, face, and on her eyes, unblinking, watching what she had been sent out by her prioress to see, to learn about, after that glance.

As the film progresses, she sees her past and learns about her family, the ones she never knew, and how they spent the war. She sees her Aunt, and learns from her how people spend their lives these days. And we see, too; though are rarely told. Dialogue is an accent, almost an incidental, in this film, whose tale could be told as well I guess, altogether silently, in still photos laid upon a table one by one, and glances exchanged or, alternately, not returned.

So, to watch, and, yes, to hope. That’s what I found myself doing as the story went along, hoping for Ida, for her Aunt, for the people she meets along her way. Hope that, in the end, folks will make the “right” choices. I’m trying to avoid another word that begins with “r”, here, because the film doesn’t end that way, in so obvious a manner. Ida’s choices aren’t always the best one might think, as the choices others make, or made, are not, either.

In the end, we are left with Hope, and, well, Love, too.

Someone asked me if I would recommend the film, and, if so, in what frame of mind a person ought to approach it. I definitely think the film is worth watching. I would suggest that the viewer do so in hope of receiving a gift small on the outside and unprepossessing to look at, but oh, so large within.

The trailer follows. Do yourself a favor and ignore the silliness in the comments section.


  1. I saw it as well and you captured in perfectly. I too was reminded of the foreign films we saw in black and white 5 decades ago at The Heights and The Ascot and The Thalia. I too recommend Ida highly.

    • I figured you would have seen the film. And, would have understood. Thanks.

  2. Thank you for this, Peadar. I, too, have seen this film, and you summed it up well. The cinematography was stunning as well.

    • Thank you Sister. I know very little about that thing called cinematography, but I did think the pictures were good.


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