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'Ida': A Young Woman's Search For Identity In 1962 Poland

May 1, 2014
Originally published on May 1, 2014 6:37 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

One of the big successes on the fall film festival circuit last fall was "Ida." It wowed audiences in Telluride and Toronto and won Best Picture at the London Film Festival. The film is in theaters starting today, and our critic Kenneth Turan is celebrating.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: "Ida" is a film of exceptional artistry. Its emotions are as potent and persuasive as its images are strikingly beautiful. It tells the story of one young woman's search for identity in 1962 Poland, but its themes of trauma and redemption are as old as the ancient Greeks. "Ida" opens in a remote Polish convent where a novitiate named Anna, just days from taking her vows, is summoned to see her Mother Superior.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "IDA")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

TURAN: It seems that Anna's aunt, a woman named Wanda Gruz, has asked to see her, and the Mother Superior mandates a visit, immediately. Wanda turns out to be a drinker, a chain smoker and an unapologetic atheist with significant ties to Poland's communist hierarchy. She sits the young woman down and tells her something point blank.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "IDA")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

TURAN: Her name is not Anna, but Ida, and she is Jewish.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "IDA")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

TURAN: Her parents were killed during World War II, and she was given over to the convent to raise.

Wanda, for her own reasons, determines to go on a joint road trip with Ida to find those lost graves. These two women push past inevitable resistance to confront different aspects of Poland's past: ghosts from both the Nazi era and the Stalinist one. Yet there is nothing overtly ideological about "Ida."

As directed by Pavel Pawlikowski and stunningly shot in black and white, its concerns are personal, emotional and aesthetic. Ida is a woman of unquestioned faith, forced to embrace the complexity of who she is. The question of the film is not whether this knowledge will change her, but how and how much. There are no easy answers to the riddles life poses, none at all.

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.