Survivor’s Guilt: Ida

By Jacqueline Lucas Palmer.

Pawlikowski’s latest film Ida is set in post war Poland. Anna (played by Agata Trzebuchowska) is a young nun and orphan, living in worshipful silence at a rural monastery until she receives a letter announcing she has a family. From the silence of her daily rituals, she travels to the city to meet her estranged aunt Wanda (played by Agatha Kulesza). A magistrate and former state prosecutor, Wanda has been beaten by life, and caught up in her alcohol addiction. When Wanda tells her niece she is a Jew by the name of Ida, they are soon setting off on a road trip to Lublin and beyond. Wanda is looking for answers in the story of the Lebensteins, and she has contacted her niece after all this time, in order to find them.

Ida is naïve about life outside the monastery walls, and ignorant of her Jewish history. Wanda chain-smokes, drinks and has one-night stands. Picking up a young jazz musician hitchhiking, she would love to corrupt her niece. With her communist beliefs and personal losses, she is cynical of the role religion has played in their history. “Good Christians your neighbours”, sneers Wanda, as they visit the religious people who have appropriated their family home and have the answers she is looking for.

As Ida judges her wayward and embittered aunt, Wanda’s cold exterior begins to soften towards her. Pawlikowski’s monochrome cinematography is powerful as they journey to the scene of the crime, the bare trees stand like silent witnesses, as they search for remains. Back at the monastery, Ida is not quite ready for her vows of chastity and obedience. But the truth is too much for Wanda, and Ida finds herself back in her aunt’s apartment, experimenting in childlike wonder with all the things outlawed…clothes, high-heeled shoes, cigarettes, alcohol and her saxophonist. But Wanda is not here to enjoy Ida’s corruption.

The film explores the meaning of sacrifice, as Ida and Wanda are unconsciously drawn to their family’s history, giving themselves over like those before them were taken. The Lebensteins were left in the woods, their homes and belongings taken by their neighbours and murderers, while Ida faces which future to renounce.