What happens when a young Polish aspiring nun learns about her Jewish past?
Set in the early 1960s in the Polish countryside, Pawel Pawlikowski‘s newest film Ida, opening in select theaters tomorrow, explores one woman’s confrontation with her heritage on the cusp of taking her vows. The Mother Superior instructs the almost-nun, Anna, to visit her only living relative, her aunt Wanda, who was known as “Bloody Wanda” thanks to her role as a procurator in Stalin-era show trials. Wanda, it turns out, is Jewish. And Anna is, too.
In their first meeting, Anna, whose birth name, she learns, was Ida Lebenstein, asks her aunt where her parents are buried. Underscoring her niece’s naiveté about Jewish history, Wanda informs her that many Jews of her parents’ generation did not have graves. The two set out to find the burial place, but the current inhabitant of their former home has nothing to offer them—at first.
Spare and moving, Ida is shot in black-and-white, but as Wanda and Ida grow closer to each other, and to the truth, Pawlikowski offers no black-and-white answers to the myriad questions he raises, inviting us to ponder this tragic and haunting tale.