Saturday, February 7, 2015


By D.E.Levine

Writer/director Powel Pawlikowski has given us a very disturbing film.  Instead of concentrating on surviving the Holocaust like so many other films, Pawlikowski has returned to his native Poland and looked at the void left behind after the annihilation of Poland's Jews during the war.

The film is set in 1962 and photographed in black and white which enhances the starkness of the countryside, the cities and the people.

Anna is a young Catholic novitiate about to take her vows at a rural monastery,  When the Mother Superior informs her that she must visit her ever absent aunt before being allowed to take her vows, Ida, very much against her will, travels to Warsaw to meet with her aunt.

Wanda Gruz, the aunt, is a judge in the court system and a disillusioned Stalinist who leads a life of liquor, cigarettes, music and a parade of anonymous men.  Her life is filled with unremitting pain. Wanda admits to Anna that she is Jewish by birth and that Ida, born Ida Lebenstein, is also Jewish.

Although Wanda mocks Ida innocence and piety, the two women find that they are mutually affectionate and Wanda agrees to take Ida to search for the remains of their family.
They prove to be a strange traveling duo but both are responsible for forcing the other to confront things they've been avoiding ---- for Ida, a world that offers more than what she has been exposed to, and for Wanda, the memories and anguish of the past that she has buried in the recesses of her mind.

Wherever they go they find animosity at the very mention of the family name,  The current resident of the old homestead is openly hostile while the townspeople deny any knowledge of the Lebenstein family.

What is apparent is that neither woman wants to reconnect to the Jewish faith, a faith that appears to be completely missing as they travel through Poland.  Ida has been raised a devout Catholic and doesn't desire to know anything about Judaism.  Wanda is a modern communist who doesn't believe in any religion or have faith in any system.

Somewhat autobiographical since the director didn't learn of his own Jewish roots and the murder of his fraternal grandmother in Auschwitz, the director has developed and shown a story devoid of Judaism and a Jewish community.  Ida and Wanda are the entire Jewish population in the film and neither one acknowledges their religion.