The “Ida” of contention

It is hard to avoid the impression that to provoke a Polish discussion about a Polish film, the film must be noticed abroad. Even though “Ida” premiered in Poland on October 25th 2013 it only garnered a lot of interest a year later when it officially became the tenth Polish Oscar nominee (Best Foreign Language Film).

Wide ida
Kadr z filmu „Ida”  /  materiały prasowe dystrybutora

It is worthwhile then to mention the emotions that Ida provoked in its critics and admirers before. It is unreasonable to expect for a film which touches upon the still sensitive topic of Polish- Jewish relations to leave its viewers indifferent.


Just a year before Ida’s premiere Poland was embroiled in a different debate. A debate which started with Władysław Pasikowski’s Aftermath- a film directly referencing the controversial events in Jedwabne. It would be difficult to discuss these films separately- despite the fact that their creators use very different means of communication and draw from different styles. It would seem that Pawlikowski, the director of Ida, shares the point of view of Henryk Grynberg, author and Survivor who distanced himself from Aftermath because of its bluntness and savagery. “The Holocaust really does not need such intensity” wrote the poet in his Journal II. And its true- it’s hard to imagine a scene in Ida as drastic as that of the main heroes crucifixion.


Because Ida is surprisingly restrained and deliberate film. For many it serves as proof that some difficult issues should not be discussed too directly and some things should be left open for the viewer. Did it however manage to fulfill the “task” which reviewers had set it? And what exactly would that task be?


We need to ask ourselves about the role of the film’s form. What is Ida? Has it not possibly become a pretty picture, painted in gray, which doesn’t attempt to analyze anything? Why is Ida’s thesis, paradoxically, the complete lack of judgment against any of its characters?


Another question relates to the relationships between the characters: are these Polish-Jewish relations or Jewish-Christian relations? Ida’s eponymous main character is after all a young girl who, fulfilling a spiritual need, decides to enter a convent. The plot of the movie centers around her family’s past and her newly discovered Jewish roots. Is this truly an attempt to combine two narratives or does this (unintentionally) lead to the Christianization of the Holocaust?


Another aspect worth paying attention to is the criticism- or rather its sources. It turns out that Ida has created a completely new divide- it has proponents and opponents from both the left and right wings of the political scene. On one hand we have the voices calling out the film’s anti-Polish nature (like Andrzej Horubała and his review in “Do Rzeczy”,1658/Ida-piekna-rozpacz.html) but at the same time people like Agnieszka Graff accuse it of “repeating anti-Semitic clichés” (


So on one hand Ida becomes fodder for the critics who accuse it of manipulating the Christian narrative and but on the other hand it is not without reason that it has grown into one of the most important films on the topic of the Holocaust in recent years. Its enthusiasts are far from claiming that Ida has become a wasted excuse for debate. Quite the opposite- they appreciate the film for avoiding not only political correctness but politics in general. They emphasize that Ida is the private story of two women- set in a specific historical context but focused mainly on the emotions of individuals.


It may be that in this debate it is impossible to say that either of the sides is right. But it is definitely worthwhile to get to know the arguments of both Ida’s proponents and opponents. That’s why we would like to invite you to a meeting held as part of the Thursdays at Tłomackie cycle. We don’t plan on choosing a winning side in this discussion but we feel that looking into the many ways this film can be received is interesting and should be done before the Oscar-related hubbub drowns out all other voices. 

 (text: Paulina Kowalska)


Thursdays at Tłomackie - February 19th 2015, 6 p.m.

More information here: 

Facebook event

Patronage: Radio Tok FM

This website uses cookies to collect statistical data. If you do not accept it, please disable cookies in your web browser. I understand