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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: Ida

A Nun Finds Out She's Jewish

By Chris Sabga



Release Date: May 2, 2014 – U.S.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama, Foreign
Running Time: 82 minutes
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Writers: Pawel Pawlikowski, 
Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Cast: Agata Trzebuchowska, 
Agata Kulesza


Good priests and nuns are the truest of the true believers. But what if one of them were to discover that they're, in actuality, Jewish? That's the dilemma facing this film's central character, Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), a nun about to take her vows. Her real name, as it turns out, is Ida Lebenstein. She meets her aunt, Wanda Gruz (Agata Kulesza), and embarks on a journey of self-discovery.

The nun's response to the startling news is curiously muted. I was expecting an explosion, but she barely reacts. Have years of living in a convent taught her to cloak her true emotions in a seemingly unattainable attempt to embody God's grace? After all, nuns can't exactly scream angrily and shout four-letter words whenever something is bothering them. That wouldn't be kosher.

Set in 1960s Poland and shot superbly in black and white, "Ida" powerfully evokes a specific sense of time and place. Stark and dark with striking imagery that makes extensive use of light and shadow, an air of mystery, tension, and unease permeates this visually stunning film.

After Ida finds out who she really is, her next question naturally has to do with her parents. What happened to them? How did they die? She and her aunt go on a road trip to seek some answers. That takes them back 20 years, to a much darker period in human history. I won't spoil what it is I'm referring to, but you can do the math. What they find out will haunt them – and us.

Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza deliver wonderful, natural performances. The two ladies are a contrast in styles – in both looks and personality. Ida, the nun, is generally silent and contemplative. Her aunt is the opposite: outgoing and outspoken. They make a strange pairing – the nun and the Jew. Oddly, almost no one wonders what they're doing together. That would be the first question I'd ask!

Even though they drive to many places, meet many people, and ask many questions, the story still feels somewhat slight. Not much actually happens. It's as slow as a Sunday sermon. Sister Ida is steadfast in her determination to remain unchanged. She clings stubbornly to her old habit(s). That may score her points with the Pope, but it makes for a lethargic moviegoing experience.

Still, no one in Ida's situation can remain completely unaffected. By the end, the young nun does finally allow herself to experience a series of emotional milestones as she struggles to come to terms with who she was, who she is, and who she ultimately wants to be.

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