Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

CNS photo/Music Box Films
Agata Trzebuchowska stars in a scene from the movie "Ida." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

New York

In Polish film ‘Ida,’ a novice finds her identity

By KURT JENSEN, Catholic News Service | Published June 12, 2014

NEW YORK (CNS)—The starkly beautiful minimalist masterpiece that is “Ida” (Music Box) adroitly navigates two horrific eras of Polish history as an aspiring nun discovers her true identity.

While brisk and unadorned at a brief 80 minutes, the film is nevertheless anything but simplistic. Director and co-writer (with Rebecca Lenkiewicz) Pawel Pawlikowski assumes that the audience knows something of the Holocaust in Poland, and of the Stalinist show trials to consolidate state power that followed the Soviet victory in World War II.

The story, set in a dismally cold 1962, has Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), an 18-year-old novice, about to take her vows. Her mother superior (Halina Skoczynska) summons Anna and tells her that she must first visit her Aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), her only living relative. Mother does not indicate what Anna can expect to learn from the encounter.

The life of the convent is the only existence Anna has ever known, since she was left there as an infant.

Wanda, a gruff, hard-drinking, chain-smoking former state prosecutor, wastes no time: “You’re Jewish,” she tells Anna as the two sit together at Wanda’s kitchen table.

Anna’s real name, Wanda explains, is Ida Lebenstein, and her parents were killed in a forest by people who were supposedly hiding them from the German invaders.

Brought up to be obedient, Anna/Ida takes all this in with a surprisingly calm air. She asks Wanda to help her find out more about what happened to her parents and their farm. Armed with her natural tenacity and—as a communist insider—with the rare luxury of a car, Wanda agrees.

What ensues is a road trip marked by Wanda’s constant boozing, the pettiness of local authorities, and the dim atmosphere of a hotel jazz club where Ida eventually breaks out of her shell via a furtive romance with saxophonist Lis (Dawid Ogrodnik).

Complicating the search, her parents’ farm is now owned by a family of Catholics who at first retort to Ida’s inquiries, “No Jews ever lived here.” At the same time, though, they ask Ida to bless their infant child.

Similar contradictions characterize the interaction between atheist Wanda and her believing niece. “What if you go there (i.e., her parents’ former home) and discover there is no God?” she asks Ida early on. Later, returning from a night of dissolute partying to find Ida absorbed in prayer, Wanda snorts, “This Jesus of yours died for people like me!”

Wanda can’t see what the church offers Ida, but the script doesn’t necessarily support her view. Rather, it depicts Ida as a girl getting a late start on life, and her mother superior comes off as very wise for insisting that she see her aunt.

The tragic reality that Catholics participated in the slaughter of Jews is not concealed. But it’s also shown that Stalinist Jews killed innocents as well.

A particularly touching scene has Wanda arranging, as a family tree, old photographs of relatives, presumably all victims of the Holocaust. Among the photos is one of Irena Sendler, the real-life Catholic nurse responsible for smuggling 2,500 Jewish children out of Poland.

In keeping with the complexities of the history with which he deals, Pawlikowski leaves his beautifully photographed film deliberately open-ended.

This film is in Polish, with subtitles. The film contains implied nonmarital sexual activity, a suicide and fleeting crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

“The Fault in Our Stars” (Fox)

Lush adaptation of John Green’s novel about two teen cancer patients (Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort) who meet at an Episcopal Church-sponsored support group in Indianapolis (led by Mike Birbiglia). They bond over a novel that also concerns the disease and, accompanied by her mother (Laura Dern), travel to Amsterdam to seek out its author (Willem Dafoe). But the scribe turns out to be an abusive drunk. The remainder of director Josh Boone’s drama—which, through Woodley’s performance, presents its audience with an appealingly literate and sensible teen heroine—is a rumination on the harsh reality of dying in which religious faith gets only oblique mentions. Though sexuality and language put his film on the adult side of the ledger, it may be acceptable for the most mature adolescents. Implied premarital sexual activity, fleeting crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

“Maleficent” (Disney)

Live-action feminist retelling of the Disney version of “Sleeping Beauty” which casts the villainess of that 1959 animated feature—here played by Angelina Jolie—in a more positive light. Betrayed by the future king (Sharlto Copley) of the human realm that borders the enchanted territory she protects, the initially good fairy of the title—portrayed in youth by Isobelle Molloy—turns bitter and vengeful. She eventually exacts retribution by cursing the sovereign’s infant daughter to fall into an endless slumber on the day before her 16th birthday—a trance from which only “true love’s kiss” will be able to awaken the lass. As the child (Elle Fanning) grows up, however, her innocent goodness melts the evildoer’s heart. So much so, that—aided by the shape-shifting crow (Sam Riley) who serves as her assistant and scout—the repentant villainess strives to thwart the fulfillment of her own malediction. Though it can be viewed as an honorable conversion story warning against ambition and the thirst for revenge, director Robert Stromberg 3-D fantasy startlingly subverts its source material in a way that registers as vaguely anti-male and anti-marriage. It also has enough dark imagery and bloodless battling to frighten the smallest moviegoers. Some harsh action violence. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

“Chef” (Open Road)

A mouthwatering comedy-drama about one man’s obsession with food and family written and directed by Jon Favreau, who also plays the title role. Though a successful chef at a trendy California restaurant, Favreau’s character is frustrated by having to prepare the same dishes, over and over, as demanded by his boss (Dustin Hoffman). After an ill-advised confrontation with an influential critic and blogger (Oliver Platt) costs him his job, his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) invites him to tag along on a trip to Miami where he got his start in the kitchen. There he’s offered the opportunity to take charge of a rundown food truck as a way to reinvent himself and reignite his passion for cooking. His altered lifestyle also gives him the chance to reconnect with his young son (Emjay Anthony). An implied nonmarital relationship, drug use, occasional profane and crude language, some mildly adult humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.