“Birdman” and “Boyhood” have gotten most of the Oscar headlines over the last month, but it’s Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Ida” that could make history on Sunday. If it wins in the Best Foreign Language Film category, “Ida” — which was also nominated for Best Cinematography — would earn Poland its first-ever Oscar.
Set in 1960s Poland, “Ida” focuses on Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), a young Catholic nun who discovers she’s Jewish. Following the revelation, Anna travels to meet her only living relative, Wanda (Agata Kulesza), a wild, promiscuous aunt who joined the Communist Party after the war. There, Anna learns that her birth name is Ida and begins a journey to understand her identity for the first time.
Ahead of Sunday’s Oscars, HuffPost Entertainment sat down with Pawlikowski to talk about how he stripped down the “tricks of cinema” to make “Ida” as an effort to purify the film experience.
This is such an original and moving story. What inspired you to write it? I’d read that you based Wanda on a woman you’d met in the 1980s.
Yeah. Not literally, just the idea of that woman. She was like a mystery, how one can be several people in one lifetime. How someone fun and sweet and wise in their 70s can be a fantastic in their early 20s, a member of a murderous establishment in their 30s. That’s just a general idea.
And Ida, the notion of her, was inspired by a story I’d heard from a friend about a Polish priest who discovered he was Jewish as well. It’s not about him — Ida is not this guy — but it got me thinking. You get these sort of inspirations from real life often, you transform it with stuff you know, then you find the actors and it becomes even richer. The other source of inspiration was the ’60s in Poland. I just wanted to bring it to life because it’s the landscape of my childhood. I’m very nostalgic for it. Some people find it very grim, but I find it beautiful.
Was it very personal to film it in those locations?
Yeah. They’re not literally the locations which I knew, but I found ones that could help me bring those memories to life. There’s never just one reason while you make a film. This stuff just kind of gathered over years, it was more like I played with the idea of the Jewish nun for a while. And Wanda, I remember [Helena Brus-Wolinska], who I once wanted to make a documentary about but she never agreed.
Has this idea of multiple identities and self discovery interested you as a filmmaker for some time?
Yeah, of course. “Who are you?” Absolutely. I left Poland at 14. I always felt Polish, but I lived in so many different countries. At some point I was a hippie, at some point…