Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Movie – Ida (2014)

Ida won the 2015 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.  It was streaming on Netflix Instant and only 82 minutes long, so it was easy to check it out.  I have not seen the other four nominees yet, so I cannot say if this movie was worthy of winning the Academy Award.  I will say that I wouldn’t consider it an Oscar-worthy movie.  I have a theory as to why it did win and I’ll go into that a little later.  Despite some flaws it is still a movie worth recommending.

The blurb for this film stated, “Anna, a young novitiate nun in 1960s Poland, is on the verge of taking her vows when she discovers a dark family secret dating back to the years of the Nazi occupation.”  I’ll give you three guesses as to what the family secret is and the first two don’t count.  Thankfully, the film doesn’t wait very long before revealing that (gasp!) she was born to a Jewish family that died during WWII.

Anna (Agata Trezbuchowska) is close to taking her final vows to become a Catholic nun.  Before doing that, though, the Mother Superior tells her that Anna needs to go visit her aunt.  Anna didn’t even know she had an aunt; she had been abandoned at the Catholic orphanage as a baby.  The Mother Superior says that they wrote many times to the aunt for her to come get Anna, but she never did.  They know the aunt is still alive because she finally responded to say she couldn’t take Anna.

Anna goes to visit her and the aunt (Agata Kulesza) is a drinking, smoking, swearing, random sex having, middle aged woman.  Right away we’re presented with the Madonna/Whore contrast and the film never veers from it.  The aunt asks her, “So there are Jewish nuns now?”  Anna had no idea her family was Jewish until then.  She gives no reaction to that, or to when he aunt tells her that Anna’s real name is Ida.

At first the aunt wants nothing to do with her, but then relents and tells her that she is sure that Anna’s parents were killed in the forest near their home during WWII.  They had been being hidden by a man they knew.  When Anna and the aunt reach their old family house they find the son of the man living there and he’s none too happy to see them.  He figures they are there to stake a claim to the property, since, you know, it actually is theirs.

The aunt asks for the father, but the son doesn’t cooperate.  They finally do track the father down in a hospital and the aunt confronts him.  She figures he killed her sister and husband (Anna’s parents) and stole their property.  He doesn’t have all his faculties, though, and the son shows up and promises to take them to where their family was buried if they give up any claim to the property.

There is more that happens, but that’s as far as I’ll go.  There aren’t really any surprises in the plot, except maybe one with the aunt and that’s because it is completely random and obviously thrown in purely for the sake of generating a reaction.

The actress who plays Anna has been praised by some for being “a natural”.  I’m afraid I didn’t see that.  What I saw was a woman who almost never changes expression the entire movie, regardless of whether she is happy, sad, angry, disappointed, or intrigued by a young man.  I found out afterwards that the director couldn’t find an actress with the right look that he wanted for the role and he asked his friends to just take pictures of random young women.  From these he selected the woman who eventually played the part.  She was a college student who had never acted before and who has said she never plans to again.  Honestly, it shows in the movie, especially when she has scenes with the experienced actress who plays the aunt.

Why do I think this film won the Oscar?  Things go in cycles.  For a couple of years recently the Best Picture was one based on true events (and even half of this year’s nominees were the same thing despite Birdman ultimately winning.)  On the Foreign Language Film front last year The Great Beauty won the Oscar, despite the much superior The Hunt also being nominated.  The Hunt had a much more important story in it, too.  Why did The Great Beauty win?  Because everyone remarked how much it reminded them of Fellini’s films La Dolce Vita and 8 ½ and they loved getting to relive them.

This year Ida won.  It doesn’t take too long into this film to realize that it is deliberately aping the films of Ingmar Bergman.  It’s a kind of depressing tale about religion, shot in black and white, with 4x3 framing, and set in the early 1960s when Bergman was at his most fascinated with doing movies about religion.  For good measure the director also throws in scenes right out of Satantango and The Best of Youth, both recent critical darlings. 

Honestly, if I was a foreign film maker I would be prepping a movie right now that looks like one of Godard’s early films.

The movie Ida is slow and despite being only 82 minutes long it does drag a little.  There is about 60 minutes of story and the rest of the time is filled by silent scenes of one of the characters doing something.

So if I have these issues with the film why am I still recommending it?  Because despite all these things it still manages to push the right emotional buttons.  You know there’s going to be a touching scene of Anna and the aunt when the bodies are located, but when it happens it still makes an impact.  You know the two opposites are going to come to grudgingly like each other, but when they do it’s a good thing.

If you are interested in seeing the film because it won the Oscar then I suggest you do.  As I mentioned, it is short and it is emotional despite its flaws.  And if you like the films of Bergman then you will probably find a lot to like in Ida.  I recommend you give it a try.

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


  1. It's a good bet this will be in the next edition of the 1001 Movies list as well. The Best Foreign Language winner generally is.

    1. I agree. You can get a jump on it if you want since it's streaming on Netflix.

  2. We are in agreement, it wasn't a great foreign film,I found it pretty dull and uninvolving, probably due to what you say about the lead actress never changing her expression. I don't think it's in the same league as the work of Kieslowski.
    For me, what Ida has going for it is that it could have been made in any decade since WW2, so there's a timelessness to the story. I think that's partly why the Academy acknowledged this type of film, a safe choice that won't become dated and make the academy look stupid in 25 years.

    1. You are right that it will not become dated and that that could have been a big part of the win, too.