*** This review may contain spoilers *** I appreciate a movie with an elevating allegorical subplot. With all its grand tragedy, this movie is about hope. Hope that there is meaning to life and its known where that hope can be found. That's real hope; that's worthwhile hope.Ida is a young woman in her early twenties. She grew up in a convent in Poland after World War ll. She speaks little, moves gracefully, acts reverently, and provides a beautiful and haunting image. Ida is preparing to take her final vows when she is called into Mother Superior's office and told that she still has one living relative and she must see her before taking her vows.Ida leaves the convent for virtually the first time to meets her aunt. She acquaints herself with her history. She learns that she was born to Jewish parents. During the War her parents and cousin (her aunt's son) were brutally murdered by a neighbor during the tumult of the holocaust period. Questions must be settled.
This unlikely pair journey to the countryside where they were raised to find answers to these questions. Amazingly, they learn the details of the death of their family and where their bodies were buried. Jewish burial laws are quite extensive and specific, so learning this sad history was an essential task. They are able to collect the bones and rebury them properly. Parenthetically, an attractive and talented young musician enters the picture. He is playing a gig at the hotel where Ida and her aunt, Wanda, are staying. Ida and he connect. It's an innocent relationship, Ida's first interaction with a man.
Wanda, is hard on the outside, but warm inside. She is an unhappy woman with no hope .She likes alcohol. Her life is occurrence after occurrence with no rhyme or reason. It appears that this journey and the answers it provided were the only meaning to her existence no matter how painful the experience was. Remember, her only son was a victim of this brutality as well.
After the journey, life returns to normal, well sort of. Wanda retreats to her old self with one exception. She can no longer stomach living her life devoid of meaning or joy. She continues to cover up with liquor, unrequited sex, anger, and depression. Unfortunately, this led to her committing suicide. It's a shock reflecting the hopelessness of her life.
Ida returns to the city for her aunt's funeral. Afterwards, she goes on a worldly binge journey filled with liquor, a sexual relationship, dressing up, you get the idea, all within a short time and in a protected environment. She searches to see if another existence is worth living. Therefore, she experiments with the accouterments of life as taught to her and left behind to her by her aunt. She appears as devoid of excitement in experimenting with these toys as she was when she first arrived. Her convent life is regimented, ruled, and regulated. The security and devotional experience that the convent bestows has now cracked open to let judgment creep in. She sees an alternative available to her. She sees that her live has also been a limited experimental existence.
As a sidebar, there's another reason for this experimentation. At one point her aunt says to her, "you should have worldly experiences (she means sexual experiences) in order to have something to sacrifice, otherwise what have you given up for convent life?" She says this rather sarcastically, but Ida takes it seriously as sarcasm is not part of her awareness. Tthe film doesn't exactly paint a rosy picture of convent life. This film is shot in black and white, on a square screen format, reminiscent of the bleak time period, and has a depressing view of Poland and its people.The convent is shown in a very "Dickensoneon" way. So, Ida's judgment is limited to these two differing life experiences.
The beautiful telling line comes as Ida and her lover are lying on the bed. The young man says, (paraphrased) "come to the beach with me and we will walk together." "Then what," Ida asks? "We'll get a dog. We'll get married, we'll have kids, we'll do the usual," was his answer. "Then what," Ida asks again? The blank look on her face tells it all. This experimental life didn't lead anywhere better than what she had and her lover had no answers beyond what she had already experienced. There was hope in her old life; there was none here.
So, back to the convent she went. As she entered the gates, a smile of hope was gently displayed on her lips. There's so much to this story that I've only discussed the major issues. There are other issues like this film's attempt (and, in my opinion successfully) at dealing with Poland's unattractive part of its past.
Ida lived a sheltered life. She only had two choices – that can be a good thing or not. In this case, it was very good. As drab, isolated, and restricted as her convent life was, nevertheless, it gave her an experience which, when weighted against the experimental worldly one, proved to be elevated and hopeful.The worldly experiment offered her nothing more than an immediate experience, while the convent afforded her security, relevance, reverence and hope for much more.
There are very few films that elicit such gratitude in me. So often films are only looking to elicit emotion. This movie is a rare exception. It's a masterpiece in this respect. Gratitude is the great physical expression of love and devotion and this is the highest spiritual path. This movie took me to this most sacred place. Yes, Wanda is a tragic figure and we know, sadly that the world is full of very sad Wanda's. The world is not full of Ida's. She follows her higher self and that's unusual, to be respected, and, if we're lucky, to provide an experience of gratitude.