Unlikely cinema success for tale about Polish nun

Echo of the past

Pawel Pawlikowski appreciated that his latest film, Ida, had limited prospects. It is in black-and-white, austere, and tells a measured tale of identity, featuring an unknown actress playing a young Catholic nun in 1960s Poland.

'Basically it was kind of a big con,' Pawlikowski says. 'Nobody gave a damn. It’s a Polish film with a relatively low budget (less than $2 million) and the Polish language kills its commercial potential anyway.

'And in terms of film festivals we had no hope because Polish films are just not cool at the moment, or not seen as cool. So it was kind of liberating not to worry about any of that and just follow your nose. And look what happened — it’s gone the other way, it’s a commercial success!'

Ida is the unlikeliest of successes, winning multiple awards (including best film at the London Film Festival) critical acclaim and even wide audiences, including half a million in France.

Yet the Polish-born Englishman, who recently returned to Warsaw, contends Ida is an anti-film. The film is many things, as he will explain, but it is also very much his reaction to 'not enjoying modern cinema any more, all the emotional rhetoric of cinema and all the tricks that go with it.'

Ida recalls an older European cinema in narrative as much as style. A young novice, Anna, played by Agata Trzebuchowska, learns of a dark family secret before she takes her vows. She meets her sole living relative, aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), who reveals not only her past as a former state prosecutor involved in the Communist government’s political show trials of the early 1950s but her Jewish ancestry. The duo embark on a road trip of discovery.

Pawlikowski admits many of his backers expected something more dynamic than the result. The director is a weird cat, though. The strange shock of the film’s success hasn’t enveloped him in hubris.

FULL STORY Unlikely success for a nun’s tale (The Australian)

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