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Ida 2013

Ida | Sister of Mercy


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Anna, a young novitiate nun in 1960s Poland who, on the verge of taking her vows, discovers a dark family secret dating back to the years of the Nazi occupation.

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About the Ida 💬

Poland 1962. ANNA is a beautiful eighteen-year-old woman, preparing to become a nun at the convent where she has lived since orphaned as a child. She learns she has a living relative she must visit before taking her vows, her mother's sister WANDA. Together, the two women embark on a voyage of discovery of each other and their past. Her aunt, she learns is not only a former hard-line Communist state prosecutor notorious for sentencing priests and others to death, but also a Jew. ANNA learns that she too is Jewish and that her real name is IDA. This revelation sets ANNA, now IDA, on a journey to uncover her roots and confront the truth about her family. IDA has to choose between her birth identity and the religion that saved her from the massacres of the Nazi occupation of Poland. And WANDA must confront decisions she made during the War when she chose loyalty to the cause before family.


IDA is a film about identity, family, faith, guilt, socialism, and music. I wanted to make a film about history, which wouldn't feel like a historical film; a film which is moral, but has no lessons to offer; I wanted to tell a story in which 'everyone has their reasons'; a story closer to poetry than plot. Most of all, I wanted to steer clear of the usual rhetoric of the Polish cinema. Poland in IDA is shown by an 'outsider' with no ax to grind, filtered through personal memory and emotion, the sounds and images of childhood.



IDA has multiple origins, the most interesting ones are probably not quite conscious. Let's say that I come from a family full of mysteries and contradictions and have lived in one sort of exile or another for most of my life. Questions of identity, family, blood, faith, belonging and history have always been present.

I'd been playing with the story of a Catholic nun, who discovers she's Jewish for years. I originally set it in '68, the year of student protests and the Communist Party-sponsored anti-Semitic purges in Poland. The story involved a nun a bit older than IDA, as well as an embattled bishop and a state security officer and the whole thing was more steeped in the politics of the day. The script was turning out a little too schematic, thrillerish and plotty for my liking so I put 'IDA', aside for a while and went to Paris to make 'THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH'. I was in a different place at the time.

When I came back to 'IDA', I had a much clearer idea of what I wanted the film to be. With my co-writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz we stripped the whole thing back, made it less plotty, the characters richer and less functional. IDA became younger, more inexperienced, more of a blank slate, a young girl on the brink of life. Also, we moved the story to '62, a more nondescript period in Poland, but also a time of which I have most vivid memories, my own impressions as a child - unaware of what was going on in the adult world, but all the more sensitive to images and sounds. Some shots in the film could have come from my family album.


When I was doing my post-graduate degree at Oxford in the early 80's I befriended Professor Brus a genial economist, a reformist Marxist, who left Poland in '68. I was particularly fond of his wife Helena, who smoked, drank, joked and told great stories. She didn't suffer fools gladly, but she struck me as a warm and generous woman. I lost touch with the Bruses when I left Oxford, but some 10 years later I heard on BBC News that the Polish government was requesting the extradition of one Helena Brus-Wolinska, resident in Oxford, on the grounds of crimes against humanity. It turned out that the charming old lady had been a Stalinist prosecutor in her late twenties. Among other things, she engineered the death in a show trail of a completely innocent man and a real hero of the Resistance, General "Nil" Fieldorf. It was a bit of a shock. I couldn't square the warm, ironic woman I knew with the ruthless fanatic and Stalinist hangman. This paradox has haunted more for years. I even tried to write a film about her, but couldn't get my head around or into someone so contradictory. Putting her into IDA's story helped bring that character to life. Conversely, putting the ex-believer with blood on her hands next to IDA helped me define the character and the journey of the young nun.


Yes, the pop songs were key from the start. They were fatally imprinted on my childhood memory. They really color the landscape. Coltrane and stuff came from my adult self. Incidentally, the late Fifties and early Sixties were great for jazz in Poland. There was a real explosion: Komeda, Namyslowski, Stanko, Wroblewski... Apart from telling IDA's story, I wanted to conjure up a certain image of Poland, an image which I hold dear. My country may have been grey, oppressive and enslaved in the early Sixties, but in some ways, it was 'cooler' and more original than the Poland of today, and somehow more universally resonant. I'm sure that lots of Poles with a chip on their shoulder, and there are many, will fail to notice the beauty, the love that went into our film - and will accuse me of damaging Poland's image, by focusing on the melancholy, the provincial, the grotesque... And then there's the matter of a Polish farmer killing a Jewish family... there's bound to be trouble. On the other hand, there's also a Stalinist state prosecutor of Jewish origins, which might land me in hot water in other quarters. Still, I hope the film is sufficiently specific and unrhetorical to be understood on its own terms.


After looking high and low all over Poland among young actresses and drama students, I ended up choosing a complete amateur, a girl who'd never acted in her life and didn't even want to act - a rare find these days. A director friend of mine, Malgosia Szumowska, who knew I was desperate and running out of time, saw Agata in a Warsaw cafe. She rang me on the spot, I was in Paris at the time, so I asked her to secretly take a picture of Agata on her iPhone and send it over. On the face of it, the girl was totally wrong, a striking hipster with a baroque hairdo, vintage clothes, and ultracool demeanor. Hardly material for a nun. But she did look interesting and I really was desperate. It also turned out Agata was a militant feminist, wasn't sure about the existence of God and definitely had no time for the Church in Poland. In the audition I took away the makeup, the hair, the hipster accouterments and had a closer look: she was spot on. There was something timeless about her and touchingly authentic, as if untouched by the media and general narcissism of today. She had the face of an earnest child, but also an air of strength and calm intelligence. Some of the producers and financiers were extremely dubious about employing someone who'd never acted before and didn't even want to be an actress. They kept sending me worried e-mails before and during the filming, but in the end, the risk paid off brilliantly. I can't imagine anyone else playing this part. I think she enjoyed the experience too, but it's pretty clear that she'd rather be a director than an actor.

Agata Kulesza who played Wanda is also a woman of rare strength and integrity. But in other ways, she was the polar opposite of the younger Agata. A real virtuoso who combined a thorough theatre training with great energy, totally devoted to her metier. To play the quick-witted, conflicted, manic, melancholy Wanda she had to pull out all the stops, while staying focused and restrained and avoiding bravura. A difficult balance to strike.

For the young saxophonist Lis, I wanted an actor who could really play the saxophone and also look and feel like someone from the Sixties. Not easy these days. Generally speaking, young male actors tend to be either pretty boys or masculine thugs. It's difficult to find young men who are at once masculine, sensitive, intelligent, witty and charming. Dawid Ogrodnik was all these things. Above all, he felt authentic. He turned up at the casting session with a hangover. He'd won some award and he'd had been celebrating all night. He didn't have a sax but turned up with a clarinet he'd borrowed from a mate. There was something touching in the way he was trying to screw the clarinet together and about his confusion when his phone started ringing in one of his pockets. He couldn't find it at first, then produced some old battered mobile to explain to his friends he was about to start an audition... I tried him out with Agata Trzebuchowska. They talked, they danced, they felt good together.

Ida Movie Details 🎥

Directed by

Pawel Pawlikowski

Writing Credits

Pawel Pawlikowski

Rebecca Lenkiewicz


Agata Kulesza

Agata Trzebuchowska

Dawid Ogrodnik

Jerzy Trela

Adam Szyszkowski

Joanna Kulig

Halina Skoczynska

Dorota Kuduk

Natalia Lagiewczyk

Afrodyta Weselak

Music by

Kristian Eidnes Andersen

Cinematography by

Lukasz Zal

Ryszard Lenczewski

Categories: Oscars, Oscar Academy Award Winner, Golden Globes, Golden Globe Nominee, EEBAFTAs, BAFTA Award Winner, EFA, European Film Award Winner

Genre: Drama

Countries: Poland, Denmark, France, United Kingdom

Ida Official Trailer

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