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Ida, Best Foreign Film of 2014?


Best Foreign Film?

by Diane McCurdy

At the top of the list for this year's Best Foreign Film is Ida, a recent DVD release. It is Polish, in black and white with minimalist production values, bizarre camera angles and only 80 minutes long. Yet, with profound purity and sublime sensitivity, it delves deeply into the heart of the human condition. Its cold, austere exterior belies a core of emotional richness. This haunting film evolves in a sad and plaintive minor key.

The story begins in a convent. The is the 1960's in Poland but one has the feeling that life within the stone walls has changed little since the medieval era. Anna, an angelic looking postulant, is about to take her final vows. The Mother Superior, however, refuses to allow her to do that until she visits her only known relative, an aunt, who has, up to this point, summarily ignored her. This head nun was a wise woman.

Anna leaves for Warsaw in her drab, modest outfit and veil. Auntie is Anna's antithesis. She is a former high-ranking Communist prosecutor and is still part of the political elite. It is obvious that she is damaged. She is promiscuous, boozy and smokes constantly. After initially rejecting her relative, she eventually feels some empathy for her niece and she makes a startling, unfathomable announcement. As Anna sits primly in her habit and cross, she receives the news that she is Jewish. This information triggers a road trip to their ancestral village to find out what happened to her parents and how she came to be raised by Catholic nuns during World War II.

Along the way, sheltered Anna becomes acquainted with ways of the world, which happen to include a tenor saxophone player. Her aunt is also forced to face her own demons. The two women come to know one another but still remain at odds. Anna returns to the convent but cannot take her vows. She has found out where she came from and who she is but is not sure where she is going. She leaves the convent once more.

She drinks, smokes has sex and now, what will her life's choice be? To say more would be a spoiler.

The film is spare and simple but its message is complex. It has a 94% favorable rating on the compendium of critics' site, Rotten Tomatoes. The two lead actresses both deliver slow, deliberate, impeccable performances. Ida has already been honored with several awards in Europe and will be a strong contender for an Oscar.