We all know how important it is to
keep the memory alive about the Holocaust.
It must not be forgotten.
We can’t consign it to the dusty pages of
history, because it’s too important for our children and grandchildren to
know what happened. So
it won’t happen again.
But you go to a
(such as the one in
), and it’s too overwhelming. The voices of 6 million Jews
cry from the realm of the dead, and yet the chorus of grief and wailing is too
cacophonous to be discerned clearly.
You watch “Schindler’s List,” and it’s
too overwhelming. “The
Boy in the Striped Pajamas” was a start, because it began with a modest
story about one family, though the specter of the monstrosity was pervasive
and oppressive. “The
Book Thief” was an excellent attempt to tiptoe past the unspeakable horrors
through the filter of a child, and a luminous one, at that (young Sophie
Nelisse was a stroke of perfect casting by veteran Director Brian Percival).
In “Ida,” we have the Polish
version, by veteran Director Pawel Pawlikowski.
Again, we bump up against the darkness without
ever actually entering it.
And we see it all through the eyes of a child.
Or at least a waif who’s as innocent as a
child, because she’s a novitiate, about to take the lifetime vows of
becoming a nun: poverty,
chastity, obedience. She’s
been raised in a Catholic orphanage and knew nothing of her family.
She only knows the starkness and severity of
cloistered nunnery. Until
the day her Mother Superior informs her that she has an Aunt, and she needs to
go visit her before committing her life to sequestering.
Ida is in for a shock.
First of all, her name’s not Ida, it’s Anna.
Her parents were Jews, killed during the War.
(The film is set in the early 1960’s, when many
of the Polish citizens, stricken survivors, still had sharp memories of those
dolorous times.) Her
Aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza) is a chain-smoking, hard-drinking Communist Party
judge, who sits in tribunal trying people for various acts of anti-socialism,
like destroying tulips. She
seems cynical and angry, and is particularly critical of Anna’s Catholic
habits and garb. Of
course, Ida/Anna (Played compellingly by newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska) has
never known anything else, so of course she wears her distinctive habit, and
of course people treat her differently.
Though religion is no longer encouraged in the
Communist state, still, there are roadside shrines.
Mothers stop her and ask her to bless their
children (presumably because priests can no longer baptize in public).
Aunt Wanda is aghast at all this misplaced zeal,
and can’t understand why her lovely niece insists on covering her beautiful
red hair, which is so like her Mother’s.
Anna, for her part, asks Aunt
Wanda why she didn’t pick her up from the orphanage.
But she didn’t understand the full extent of
the terrible pogroms. The
people who live in the family house now don’t want to talk about anything or
knowing anyone, for fear that their squatter’s rights will somehow be
that the Gentile survivors were the beneficiaries of all those abandoned
Nobody really wants the past to be dug up, but
that’s literally what Wanda and Anna must do, as they try to find the graves
of Anna’s parents, and the dark secrets buried with them.
Meanwhile, Anna experiences a kind
of sensual awakening. After
they pick up a hitchhiker, he turns out to be a jazz musician, who introduces
them to Coltrane. He’s
attractive, but Anna literally doesn’t know what to do with herself.
At one point he says to her, “You don’t have
any idea of the affect you’re having, do you?”
No, but she might find out.
And the self-awareness might startle her into
making decisions about her life that are very different from the ones she’d
This black-and-white, stark,
simple story is so small-scoped that it doesn’t overwhelm.
But it does leave a doleful, soulful impression.
Especially considering the unspeakable context,
which we can never forget.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister,
St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,