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Ida (2013)

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Just noticed this entry to the London Film Festival. It's from Pawel Pawlikowski, who made My Summer Of Love with Emily Blunt and Paddy Considine. (He also directed The Woman In The Fifth, with Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott-Thomas.)

The write-up does make it sound promising:

Filmed in incandescent black-and-white, with each frame exquisitely composed, UK-based director Pawel Pawlikowski’s (My Summer of Love, Last Resort) new film is an elegy for his homeland and an intimate, poetic exploration of the limits of faith. Orphaned during WWII, Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) was brought up in a rural convent and in early 60s Poland is a young novice preparing to take her vows. When the Mother Superior insists she make contact with her last remaining relative, she meets her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), a free-living intellectual working as a judge and secretly annihilating painful memories with a heady mix of sex and booze. Their encounter lifts the shroud off the dark secret of their family’s past and both women must confront the devastating truth. Pawlikowski’s cinematic style here recalls the great Robert Bresson who wrote of actors: ‘the thing that matters is not what they show me but what they hide from me and, above all, what they do not suspect is in them’. Both actresses are superb and reveal much with what they do not show, but this pure and haunting concept is also true of the film’s cogent and profoundly moving narrative.

 

I also like the look of this black-and-white cinematography:

z14337608Q,-Ida---rez--Pawel-Pawlikowski

 

I just hope the film really does engage with its questions honestly...

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I've been busy and the London Film Festival kinda passed me by. Only just found out that this won Best Drama at the Fest.

 

And here's a review from The Guardian.

Every moment of Ida feels intensely personal. It is a small gem, tender and bleak, funny and sad, superbly photographed in luminous monochrome: a sort of neo-new wave movie with something of the classic Polish film school and something of Truffaut, but also deadpan flecks of Béla Tarr and Aki Kaurismäki.

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The first item in this thread compares the film to Bresson. Today Joe Morgenstern makes this comparison

 

The images are black-and-white, soft and supple, stripped of all clutter, and contained within a frame that's almost square—as if some early filmmaker like the great Danish director Carl Dreyer had pioneered some precursor of Instagram.

 

As promising as the film sounds on a technical and thematic level, I worried when I read this:

 

 

[Wanda] wants Ida to have at least a taste of life—and carnal love—before taking her final vows. "Your Jesus didn't stay in a cave," Wanda tells her. "He went out into the world." 


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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David Thompson at New Republic says it's one of the best films in Polish cinema:

 

 

Quite soon in watching Ida, you recognize that you are going to have to see the picture again and again. It intends to live with you. For it has a simplicity that is crammed and so concentrated, you are feeling drained. We are not used to watching so closely, or with a spirit we may have forgotten. It is like seeing Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc for the first time.
Edited by Anodos

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Thanks for bumping this, as I see the DVD is available via Amazon.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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Huh? The DVD is out? Is Ida one of those day-and-date PPV releases? Even if so, I didn't think the DVD release was part of the home viewing option; I thought such home-viewing availability was streaming only in those instances.

 

Keep in mind that my frame of reference for all things home video is circa 1990.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Every so often I'll read a festival report by Mike D'Angelo and roll my eyes at his criticism of certain films being too self-consciously arty or apparently intended for a certain brand of festival taste... and then a film like IDA comes along, and it feels like exactly that sort of film he's skewering: immaculate, film-history literate compositions coasting on the cool factor (whoa, it's 1.33) without actually expressing dramatic or character information, a cipher of a protagonist who remains opaque for no discernable reason than that it's supposedly more interesting, and an ostensibly deep subject (religious conflict, survivor's guilt) that is barely engaged with on a surface level.

 

His formal chops are aces but between this and WOMAN IN THE FIFTH, I don't get Pawlikowski. I don't know if there's anything to get.

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Richard Brody @ New Yorker calls the film "a pernicious fraud—an aesthetic one and a historical one."


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Huh. I haven't seen it yet, but my brother liked it pretty well. Here's his review over at Three Brothers Film.


"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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Reviews and essays at Three Brothers Film.

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Richard Brody @ New Yorker calls the film "a pernicious fraud—an aesthetic one and a historical one."

 

Oy vey ...

 

Or to be a little more precise ...

 

(1) It is bad criticism and historical special-pleading to attack any single, given film for telling a historical story that (stipulated for right now) may be atypical. Or (more likely the real cause of Brody's dyspepsia) that doesn't serve as an obvious ideological weapon in the present day.

 

(2) It is a historical fact that Jews, for a variety of reasons having nothing to do with Elders-esque rubbish, were "overrepresented"* in the ranks of European socialists and communists in the 19th and, relevantly here, first half of 20th centuries.** And equally a fact that the Polish Communist regime, while very far from the worst of its ideology, engaged in bloody purges throughout the late 40s.

 

(3) If Pawlikowski's point were to whip up hatred of The Perfidious Jews using Cosmopolitan Bolshevism to oppress the poor Polish people ... why show her as disillusioned?

 

---------------------------------

* I hate that word ... it implies there is such a thing as group representation and embodies a whole host of false assumptions about human society. But there is simply no very good synonym for its use in a strictly mathematical sense.

** This is a fact often bragged about by those leftist Jews who think socialism and communism to be good things.

Edited by vjmorton

Yeah ... well ... I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree with you there on that one.

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But... looking forward to more responses here on this. 


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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The storytelling progresses in an extremely predictable fashion, so that there were moments when Anne and I both just shook our heads. "Really?"

 

Moreover, I'm trying to figure out if the film's "wisdom" is really as simple (and frustrating) as it seems to be. Is this really a story about how

Ida really doesn't know what she's sacrificing by dedicating herself to the convent, so she needs to go out and have a fling with a rock star, throw back a bottle of vodka, smoke a pack of cigarettes, play dangerously near a third-story open window, and then she'll be ready to make an authentic commitment to God?

 

Having said that, I kept watching for the two lead performances, and for the striking visual compositions. The latter, though... I don't know. There's something effective going on with the "pressure" applied to the characters by pushing their heads into the corners and the lower level of the image all the time, but after a while that was really distracting. Most of the time, I couldn't get past a "cool" factor to find actual meaning in the method.

 

But I've only seen it once. 

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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The film played in Vancouver for a few days, the last of which was yesterday. And I'm afraid to say I let it slip by, partly because of Nathan's and Brody's responses. Also because I wasn't the biggest fan of the director's earlier film, My Summer of Love.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I requested a screener of this film, had nothing by Wednesday, complained and was then sent a link to view the film online because the press person "wasn't sure the earlier attempt to send had gone through."

 

Mmmm-hmmm.

 

Anyway, that's all to say that I couldn't watch the film until last night, then had to rush a blog review that I'm not even sure will be posted today, since I couldn't send the review by yesterday as promised.

 

I loved much of this film but wanted more about Ida's religious life. Not just the day-to-day of convent living -- I had wanted to see more of that in Beyond the Hills, which I liked even more than Ida, despite these qualms -- but what had brought Ida to faith. Did I miss some explanatory dialogue to that end? I felt like I got the verbal element in spades in Beyond the Hills, where the conviction of belief, specifically of repentance and the power of God to change the inner man, was stated with ringing clarity more than once. In Ida, I understood Wanda's skepticism much more than I did Ida's own beliefs. Again, Beyond the Hills laid out lots of skepticism of religious life; it just balanced that negativity with more positives. (These two films lend themselves to comparisons/contrasts.)

 

Still, I liked Ida very much and would gladly watch it again. I suspect, but am not positive, that the film will present themes and subtleties on subsequent viewings that I didn't pick up on my first time through.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Those of you who have seen the film, I'd be interested in your response to this part of Brody's review:

 

After Wanda learns the fate of her son—he was killed because she abandoned him during the war in order to fight with the Resistance, a cause that she now shrugs off as dubious—and reburies him, she kills herself. Why does she kill herself? Did she go on living only in order to learn of her son’s fate, only to give him a proper burial, before going to her own grave? The sentimental lure comes off mainly as a screenplay trick with a double purpose. First, Wanda, the Communist with blood on her hands, is at least distinguished by this penance for her crimes. Second, it subtracts Wanda from the future—rather, from the present tense of the making and the viewing of the movie, in 2014—and suppresses any angry speculation about where in Poland, today, a woman nearing ninety, a former death-dealer of the Communist regime, may be living in her own unmerited tranquility.

 

I had read Brody's review and was expecting I'd agree with him on this point. I don't. It doesn't seem like that much of a stretch to accept his own speculation about Wanda's processing of the event, but do we have to go as far as

"only to give him a proper burial, before going to her own grave"

? Couldn't the mere fact of

seeing/holding her child

be enough to crystallize the horror of that long-ago event? Plus, there's

the method of execution, which she drags out of the killer, and which she's now forced to confront

.

 

Whatever the trigger, it's not unusual for people with no hope for eternity to go on living in the face of despair for years until they die, sometimes

by their own hand

. I don't see why

Wanda's outcome should come as a surprise, or inauthentic.

Stuff like that happens with regularity. How much more information do we need?

 

As for "unmerited tranquility," I didn't see it. I saw a woman who has spent years covering her pain and guilt by drinking and having casual relationships. That the emptiness of such an existence might suddenly

come home to someone, even after many years

, is no surprise. The only surprise is that Brody, who is more attentive to such inner workings of the human spirit than other critics I've read, can't see that.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Brody's critique doesn't interest me. 

 

The film interests me a great deal, although I feel the force of the objection (cf. Victor Morton) that it's ultimately too withholding, and the protagonist remains a cipher to the end. 

 

The sheer force of the premise, a Catholic novice who has never known anything but the convent, who discovers that her origins are Jewish and has no experiential or (presumably) conceptual basis for processing this information, is haunting. That Anna was kept in the dark on this point is the first instantiation of a theme of a nation in denial, of an unspoken history and open secrets, from homes everyone knows but no one will admit were stolen from Jews to bodies buried in secret without monument or marker. 

 

The film touches on, and to an extent cross-examines, religious (and ethno-religious) identity as a tribal marker, from the citizens who regard Anna with reverence and respect but Wanda with suspicion and fear, to the striking scene in which Anna and Wanda literally struggle over Anna's Bible. Wanda offers a defensive secular critique of what she sees as the disparity between Anna's piety and the example of Jesus as she understands both — shallowly enough, though Anna has perhaps never heard such arguments nor been in a position in which they would have been relevant. (Then of course there's Wanda's disaffected attitude toward her other tribal marker, the Party.)

 

Jeff: I would demur from your proposed reading of the film's dubious religious wisdom, if for no other reason because it seems deliberately ambiguous whether Anna will go back to the convent at all. True, she's dressed as a novice again at the end, but it's no accident that we leave her on the road, with no destination in view

 

Did anyone else feel that Anna and Wanda's first meeting is staged to create the misleading initial impression that Wanda is a prostitute, setting up a virgin/whore dichotomy? Wanda meets Anna at the door wearing a bathrobe, and there's a man in her bedroom dressing and leaving whose behavior suggests neither a husband nor a live-in boyfriend. Then Wanda asks Anna, "They [the nuns] didn't tell you about me? What I do?" Combined with Wanda's declarations that she couldn't have taken Anna in from the convent, that Anna wouldn't have been happy with her…well, when the film goes on to reveal what Wanda actually does, I was surprised, anyway. 

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Good review, Andrew.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Thanks, Christian. Looking back at some of the comments here, I'm thinking I missed something related to Wanda and the reason she does what she does in the end. In any case, I really enjoyed the first 2/3 of the movie, but that last act really seemed predictable. I was hoping Pawlikowski would draw out something more substantial about her faith in that scene in the forest, but...nope.

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Yes, that was my problem with the film, too, but I was so caught up in the film's look and interaction with ideas about faith that I wrote what I thought was a very positive review -- with a couple caveats -- for Patheos.

 

Speaking of which, I've just heard from the Entertainment Editor there about the review, because Music Box, the film's distributor, read and flagged an error inflicted during editing! I supplied the headline and the home-page summary sentence, but a blog editor added a standard line that I usually leave out or simply forget to add:

 

"Review of Ida, Directed by Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal"

 

--The Music Box contact gently pointed out that, umm, the film is shot by those two gentlemen but directed by someone else. I don't know if it made me feel better or worse to affirm that the review itself gets those IDs correct further down the page:

 

"Ida is directed by Pawel Pawlikowski and shot in serene black and white by Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal, with characters and crucial visual information often placed low in the 1.37:1 frame. Visually, Ida is beautifully composed and never less than a pleasure to watch."

 

Anyway, a tough pill to swallow -- I've had some rough moments with my reviews in recent weeks, mostly self-inflicted -- but it's nice to know people are paying attention.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Thanks, Christian. Looking back at some of the comments here, I'm thinking I missed something related to Wanda and the reason she does what she does in the end. In any case, I really enjoyed the first 2/3 of the movie, but that last act really seemed predictable. I was hoping Pawlikowski would draw out something more substantial about her faith in that scene in the forest, but...nope.

Nodding along with all of this, too.

 

I think my disappointment with the last half could be summarized with that final shot and the Bach cue (which was famously used in SOLARIS). If I remember correctly, it's the only non-diegetic music in the film and the choice to lean on that for some sort of generic catharsis is unfortunate, given the piece's close association with Tarkovsky, and it's recent ubiquity (according to Wikipedia, it was used in AMOUR and NYMPHOMANIAC, which I haven't seen).

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