The Shmooze

'Ida': Conversation with Director Pawel Pawlikowski

By Masha Leon

  • Print
  • Share Share

“Ida,” a fascinating and disquieting Polish language film written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, is a post-Soviet Polish rumination, a mystery with religious and political overtones. Pronounced as “Eeda,” Pawlikowski told me during our chat: “I needed a good name and remembered the Jewish Polish actress Ida Kaminska. It was a name I liked, but just a name.”

Pawlikowski — a charming, handsome man — and I met at Serafina’s outdoor café on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. With ambulance sirens and pedestrian chatter as a dissonant soundtrack, I complimented Pawlikowski — who I assumed had deep roots in Poland — about his on-key replication of post-Soviet Poland’s bleakness, cultural and political detritus. His surprise revelation: “I left Poland when I was 13!… This is my first Polish language film.” A propos the film’s narrative, he said he was aware of the late-in-life confessions — usually a dying grandmother — who tells her Polish Catholic family that she was Jewish.

“Like all fiction, it comes from fragments of hearsay, “ said Pawlikowski, who admitted he was familiar with Father Wechsler “who discovered his Jewish roots and took interest in his other identity. But it is not my character [Ida]. It was just an idea that floated somewhere.”

Karen Leon
Pawel Pawlikowski

“Ida” follows young beautiful novice Anna (“Agata Tzebuchowska”) about to take her vows on a journey of historic self-discovery. Because “blood relatives must be met before vows are taken,” she is sent from the convent — where she has lived since infancy — and ordered to meet her until then unknown aunt Wanda who bluntly informs her that she is a “zydowka” (a Jewess)! and that her real name is Ida Lebenstein. Holocaust victim Wanda brings Ida (the Catholic novice) to what had been their parents’ rural home and in a bitter recitative exhumes the family’s dark fate to which Ida remains a dispassionate tourist.

What about the character Wanda, I asked Pawlikowski — a tough doctrinaire surrogate judge in post-war Poland who spends her life picking up men, and compares herself to a slut, to Mary Magdalene?” Pawlikowski was adamant: “Wanda, is a composite…. but there was a real person who worked for the State Security high –up. “ “So why show Wanda as a nasty Stalinist?” Pawlikowski shrugged: “It’s a Polish cliché about Jews having brought Communism to Poland.”

What was the reaction to the film? Pawlikowski informed, “In Poland audiences liked it…. We took it to the countryside, to villages. Polish nationalists on the Internet say this is a very anti-Polish film [but] Jewish people wonder if she will go back to her roots.”

“So how do you explain the residual anti-Semitism in Poland?” He shrugged: “I have no track with anti-Semites. I do not know who they are…When I am in Poland and hear something anti-Semitic, I get very upset and talk about it. And, when I am in the West and hear Poland being reduced to just a bunch of anti-Semites, that pisses me off too!” And then he was off to catch a plane.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: pawel pawlikowski, jewish, ida, film, poland

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.