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A still from "Ida"
A still from “Ida”

In Poland’s Oscar-winning black and white film, “Ida,” by director Paweł Pawlikowski, we follow the orphaned Anna, a young novice nun in the 1960’s. Why Anna and not Ida? Because it turns out Anna’s real name is Ida. Before taking her vows, Anna’s Mother Superior advises her to visit her aunt. There, she learns that she’s actually a Jew, and her parents were murdered during World War II. As an orphan, she was raised by the convent.

Agata Trzebuchowska is wonderful as Anna/Ida. The character is very young and has been sheltered her whole life, so her life experience is much more limited than even a modern-day teenager. We see the effects on Agata’s face of everything Anna learns, even as the character tries desperately to contain her emotions, as a young novice in the 60’s would.

Anna’s/Ida’s aunt, Wanda, played by Agata Kulesza, is the opposite of Anna. She’s world-weary from experience. She smokes, she drinks, and she’s promiscuous.

At Anna’s insistence, the two go on a road trip together to find Anna’s parents’ graves and discover what really happened to them.  On that journey, Anna is exposed to all sorts of experiences unlike any she has had before. The trip changes both women profoundly, but there is no Americanized, “tied up in a bow” love that develops between them.

Ultimately, it’s a journey of self-discovery for Anna. Will she decide to take her vows after all?

It’s a dark, haunting film, but it’s beautifully done and is worthy of its Oscar win. It’s streaming on demand on Netflix, Fandor, and other sites.

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