An Introduction to Ida
Approaching a film such as Ida can be challenging because of students’ familiarity with mainstream American cinema. The standard American film thematically centers on empowerment by often utilizing a combination of extraordinary people, worlds, or situations to carry out rich plots. This style of filmmaking seeks to entertain and offer an escape from our daily lives. Stories specifically designed to entertain with the ultimate goal of getting from plot point A to plot point B are generally called genre films, and these dominate the box office. Because students have become so used to the genre style of film, it is no wonder that Ida may seem awkward in comparison for its lack of bells and whistles, daring heroes, or edge of seat plot twists. But Ida is not a genre film, nor does it try to be; it is more literary in design. Ida asks us to intellectually examine life, to reflect and think about the subtext of what happens in the story.
A good way to begin discussing Ida with students might be to ask questions about the aspects of the film that might seem odd or different to them at first. Why did the director choose specific styles or shots? Who are the characters in relation to their family and political history? What truths or lies are uncovered in reveling their identities? What social impacts and symbols resonate with you? Think about how all of these elements relate to the characters, to the Polish then and now, and how these themes transcend film, time, and geography. Through searching for these answers, the students may find they have more in common with Ida than much of mainstream cinema.
How can a film such as Ida win so many awards among high budget, high action films? It timelessly engages the human condition on many levels. Ida asks the audience to explore identity, culture, faith, history, music, moral, sacrifice, and family--questions and struggles everyone has faced at one time or another. Compared to the superheroes, alien invasions, and suave spies of modern cinema, Ida is very much an ordinary person in an ordinary world; however, a second glance at Ida’s world is even more impressive than exotic locations built on studio sets because it eerily mirrors our own world in a bittersweet sort of way, and unlike the films where a dashing hero ties up all of the loose ends and fades out into the sunset, Ida’s ending is only a prelude to newfound chapters in our own self-discovery.
Before Students Watch the Film
Watching a film such as Ida will be a new experience for many students. As a prelude to having students watch the film, faculty and staff might provide a helpful overview which explains that the film is in black and white, that the film may seem slow paced by “action film” standards, that the film uses English subtitles, and that the film creates a lot of room for thought and critical thinking. Students should be told as well, though, that the film won numerous awards in 2014, the year it was released, including the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Students may need help recognizing the setting: Poland in the early 1960’s—less than 20 years after World War II and in the middle of the Cold War.
Ida was chosen for this year’s Common Experience, which is using the theme of IDENTITY, because the film focuses heavily upon elements that shape a person’s identity. As a way of helping students focus as they watch the film, they might be asked to keep a running log, listing every impact they see in the film that plays a role in shaping Ida’s identity.