Tag Archives: religion

Ida (English version of the previous post)

27 mar

A Polish friend of mine once told me that, in communist Poland, the most revolutionary thing for young people to do was to get married in Church, with veil, wreath, nuptial hymn and all. The country being, by tradition, deeply Catholic, the communist regime imposed, by force, an atheism which was not welcome at all.

So, in the fifties and sixties, as juvenile rebellion, in the capitalist world,  consisted of drinking, smoking, playing rock´n´roll, and eloping, in Poland church wedding was the great gesture of extreme courage for young people who were dissatisfied with the status quo.

But, why am I talking about this?

The reason is I´ve just watched “Ida” (2014), the Polish movie that received the best foreign film Oscar this year, and, which, somehow, has something to do with the situation once evoked by my friend.

ida 1

In 1962, in this faraway convent, there lives this novice Anna who, together with other novices, will soon take her vows and become a nun. Before this happens, she is sent to town by Mother Superior, to stay some days with an aunt she had never seen, nor known she existed, for, according to her novitiate documents, she was an orphan who had no relatives whosoever.

Open-minded and libertine, Aunt Wanda shows to a surprised Anna some pictures of her parents, Jews who were killed during the war. It turns out that Anna – now identified as Ida – is convinced by her aunt to go for what was left of the family, an old house in the rural area, nowadays occupied by strangers.

It is in the cow barn of this house that Anna will see the stained glasses which – her aunt so said –  her mother had put in the windows, so that the cows could feel happier. A small detail that gives the girl an idea of who her mother was, probably an artistic and anti-conventional soul and a person full of life.

Aunt and niece suffering together

Aunt and niece suffering together

Questions asked all around, the two women are finally led, in the middle of a humid, dark forest, onto a painful truth which I prefer not to reveal to the reader who hasn´t seen the movie yet.

Let me just say that, back in the Convent, Anna  realizes she is not yet ready for the vows. When she returns to town, for her aunt´s funeral, she decides she must for a moment try life as it is. She puts on her aunt´s dress and high-heel shoes, she smokes and drinks like her aunt used to do, and gives her body to a boy they had met on their way to town.

While still in bed, the boy suggests they should elope, and she asks “And next?”. The boys says they could get married and have children; and she asks again: “And next?”. Not knowing what else to say,  he says: “Whatever, life”.

All these “sins” committed, Ida/Anna puts back on her veil and heads back for the Convent, to lead a life of religious reclusion forever. And the movies ends up with a frontal take of her face, clearly determined not to have the “life” the boy had mentioned.

Without the novice veil

Without the novice veil

This ending considered, it might look a bit ironical – or doesn´t it? – that the movie is called “Ida”, and not “Anna”.

Anyway, it must be stressed that, in this movie, we are very far away from any kind of manicheistic schedule that might separate the two entities, Anna and Ida. That´s why, in the previous paragraph, I was careful enough to use quotation marks for the word “sins”.

I guess that, watching “Ida”, makes one recall “The nun´s story” (1959), a movie with a similar issue, where the nun Audrey Hepburn hesitates between faith and the world. In Fred Zinnemann´s film the choice is other, but, anyway, similarities persist.

Except for Andrzej Wajda, Roman Polanski and krzysztof Kielowski, the Polish cinema is hardly known amog us. I recently  wrote about Wajda (See my post “Walesa”), and, as to the other two, they are far more active outside their country, than inside.

“Ida” is directed by Pawel Pawlikowski and the young actress Agatha Trzebuchowska is very good as the main character. I call attention, however, to the beautiful black and white cinematography (by Lucasz Zal), a chromatic choice that, very appropriately, causes the viewer to bring to mind the many shades of grey of the European art cinema shot more or less at the fictional time of “Ida”, late fifties, early sixties. I mean films like “The 400 blows”, “Breathless”, “Rocco and his brothers”, “La dolce vita”, “Persona”, and so many others…

P.S: This article is dedicated to my Polish friend Jack Slosky, at present living in the United States.

The actress Agatha Trzebuchkowska as the protagonist.

The actress Agatha Trzebuchkowska as the protagonist.

Tears in the dark

7 maio

People somtimes ask me if, when I am about to see a picture, I promptly take on that distant and cold attitude of a professional critic who observes, analyses and judges.

My answer always surprises those who ask me: when I am at the movie-house – or at home, playing the DVD set – I take off completely my “critic´s uniform” and surrender to the movie, body and soul, for whatever comes up. And what comes up may be any human reactions, including those too human.

Only later, as the English poet says, “recollected in tranquility”, I mentally recall the movie and, if by any chance, it was worthwhile, I do concentrate to analyze and evaluate.

I did not mention, above, the list of reactions I may have to a movie, but, I do feel the moral obligation of saying that those are the same that occur to the most naïve and unable spectator.

One of them, for instance, is crying. Yes, some movies make me cry, so much that the tears flurry, not only my vision, but also my supposed ability to discern.

Fellini´s "Nights of Cabiria": a tear and a smile in the final scene.

Fellini´s “Nights of Cabiria”: a tear and a smile in the final scene.

If you want an example, I could never watch the final scene in “Nights of Cabiria” (Fellini, 1957) without pouring tears, and even now that I recall it to write about, I do feel like crying.

I think Fellini was pretty mean to conceive that kind of denouement; mean to Cabiria and mean to the viewer. The poor woman had suffered blows after blows, and this final scene is totally unbearable. It should have been the sublime moment when, despite the blows, she had come to believe in love again, and, however, her “charming prince” proves to be a thief who, in the dark forest, near the abyss verge, runs away with her belongings. Next morning, when Cabiria meets those gay young people who play, sing and dance around her, she still can show a smile, but…

In Frank Capra´s “It´s a wonderful life” (1946) George Baily is a householder who, a Christmas Eve, can see no way out of his debts except committing suicide. As he tries it, someone else enters the scenery and the whole story takes an unexpected and strange course. Bewitched by the angel Clarence, George looks for his relatives all over town and can not find any: in this unfamiliar, gloomy new world, his wife, Mary, had become a neurotic spinster, his mother is the owner of a whorehouse, and his brother is just a name in a tomb… In a moment of total despair, not knowing what to do or where else to go, he runs towards the screen (yes, towards us) as if to ask for help. This moment chokes me and…

Un unifamiliar, gloomy new world for George Baily: Capra´s "It´s a wonderful life"

An unifamiliar, gloomy new world for George Baily: Capra´s “It´s a wonderful life”

In David Lean´s “Brief encounter” (1945) Laura is a simple housewife, with two kids, a mind-limited husband and an unimaginative life ahead. Every Thursday she takes the train to a neighboring town, where she finally meets this also married doctor who… The scene in which this woman in love is forced by circumstances to return back to the husband she does not love, and, sitting at the sitting room, after recalling a whole love story, hears the husband thank her for getting out of this “nightmare” and come back to his arms: all this under Rachmaninoff´s sound track…

I never wrote critical essays on these movies, and if I ever did, I was not at all satisfied with the results. My emotional reaction inevitably interferes with the analysis and, after all, I would rather leave them untouched. By the way, I do not even see these three movies very often, for, in my religion of cinephile, they are sacred icons for whom a constant visitation might sound like profanity.

Back into an unimaginative domestic life: David Lean´s "Brief encounter"

Back into an unimaginative domestic life: David Lean´s “Brief encounter”

Actually I should say very few movies make me cry, and the ones who do are all old movies, from the first half of the twentieth century. Modern cinema never pulled out a tear from my eyes, I wonder whether the problem is mine or its. I do not even know if it is a problem.

The crying effect is connected to a special genre, the melodrama, a genre that lost prestige with the coming of modernity.

I do not know how far the three movies I mentioned may be called melodramas, but, there is one thing I know: they are too big to fit any genre.