It’s a funny thing, how our personalities and pain can be read from the environments we live in. From the way light hits a home, to landscaping and upkeep, everything tells a story. It informs us and makes us feel a certain way. Everything has memory. Life, even.

The scene of early 1960s Poland, as shown in IDA, is one with a heavy fog. If the movie weren’t shot in black & white, it certainly would feel like it ought to be. People are framed against many a dead/empty space — large yards, walls, staircases, eerily awkward banquet halls — at angles that cut off the bottom half of their bodies. Are we (the audience) on our knees, looking up? Sometimes, shots are made from in-hiding, behind branches and in corners. Why not get up close? The setting is blanketed in cold, lonely self-loathing. World War II left a huge scar.

Our guides are a young almost nun — whose real name is Ida — and her Aunt who is a judge. When they first meet, it’s suggested that the Aunt might be a woman of “ill repute,” speaking much for Ida’s path in life and where she came from. When the true occupation is revealed moments later as a rather humorless joke, it speaks almost volumes about the Aunt and perhaps the system of government at the time. She is weathered and worn out, aggressive from frustration and cynical from having survived war.

The two women go on an investigative trip to discover the fate of Ida’s Jewish parents, just before Ida is set to take her vows. She is confident in her life decision, and almost steely in confronting the horrible truths that are uncovered. Where the Aunt wears her issues on her sleeve (much like everyone and everything else), Ida stays calm and collected, reasonable and relaxed, but never unemotional. When a handshake is offered, she refuses with much disgust and pride on her almost stone-like face. I’d be willing to bet that the man behind that hand not only expected that reaction, but wanted it as well. No punishment will ever be enough.

IDA, the movie and the character, both embody the expense of innocence, the toll of coming out the other end of hell and the sacrifices made to ensure the freedom of the next generation. Others gave up much, even their souls, to save this young woman. Maybe in meeting her, they are a step closer to being saved themselves? These are a people and this is a country that have and has lost much. As visitors, we are getting a full dose of their feelings, soaking them in through the setting itself and letting them out through the way we observe it all. Post WWII Europe. Is there such a thing as secondhand PTSD?

4 / 5

Originally published in PROPAGANDA New Orleans.

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