DVD/Stream of the Week: IDA – something to compare with this year’s best

Ida

The big Prestige Movies are arriving in theaters and Oscar campaigns are being launched, so this week I’m giving you a movie that you can compare to 2017’s Oscar Bait the recent Polish drama Ida.

The title character is a novice nun who has been raised in a convent orphanage. Just before she is to take her vows in the early 1960s, she is told for the first time that she has an aunt. She meets the aunt, and Ida learns that she is the survivor of a Jewish family killed in the Holocaust. The aunt takes the novice on an odd couple road trip to trace the fate of their family.

The chain-smoking aunt (Agata Kulesza) is a judge who consumes vast quantities of vodka to self-medicate her own searing memories. But the most profound difference isn’t that the aunt is a hard ass and that the nun is prim and devout. The most important contrast is between their comparative worldliness – the aunt has been around the block and the novice is utterly naive and inexperienced (both literally and figuratively virginal). The young woman must make the choice between a future that follows her upbringing or one which her biological heritage opens to her. As Ida unfolds, her family legacy makes her choice an informed one.

The novice Ida, played by newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska, is very quiet – but hardly fragile. Saying little, she takes in the world with a penetrating gaze and a just-under-the-surface magnetic strength.

Superbly photographed in black and white, each shot is exquisitely composed. Watching shot after shot in Ida is like walking through a museum gazing at masterpiece paintings one after the other. Ida was directed and co-written by Pawel Pawlikowski, who also recently directed the British coming of age story My Summer of Love (with Emily Blunt) and the French thriller The Woman in the Fifth (with Kristin Scott Thomas and Ethan Hawke). He is an effective and economic story-teller, packing textured characters and a compelling story into an 80 minute film.

Ida is also successful in avoiding grimness. Pawlikowski has crafted a story which addresses the pain of the characters without being painful to watch. There’s some pretty fun music from a touring pop/jazz combo and plenty of wicked sarcasm from the aunt.

Ida won 2015 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Picture and the International Critics’ Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. Ida was my pick as the best film at Cinequest, where it won the Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature.

Ida is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon Instant, YouTube, Google Play and Xbox Video.

FEVER AT DAWN: romance, identity and a moral choice

FEVER AT DAWN
FEVER AT DAWN

The Hungarian drama Fever at Dawn is a little movie with an epic romance. Set just after the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, Hungarian invalids who survived the camps have been sent to convalesce in hospital camps in Sweden. A young patient, Miklos, gets a dire diagnosis and determines to find love once more before he dies. A half century before internet dating, he concocts a scheme to get himself in front of every sick Hungarian woman in Sweden. When he meets his potential soulmate Lili, a moral question rises to the surface – should he share his diagnosis with the woman he is courting?

Some Holocaust survivors experienced ambivalence about the very Jewish identity that led to yellow stars on their clothes and, essentially, targets on their backs. This ambivalence becomes a significant thread of Fever at Dawn and is addressed more explicitly than is common for Holocaust (or post-Holocaust) movies.

Don’t read too much about this movie before seeing it. There’s an unexpected nugget at the end.

I saw Fever at Dawn earlier this year at its US premiere at Cinequest.  It’s being featured at this years San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SJFF36), where you can see it at San Francisco’s Castro on July 26, at the Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theater on July 28, and at CineArts in Palo Alto on July 29.

Cinequest: FEVER AT DAWN

FEVER AT DAWN
FEVER AT DAWN

The Hungarian drama Fever at Dawn is a little movie with an epic romance.  Set just after the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps,  Hungarian invalids who survived the camps have been sent to convalesce in hospital camps in Sweden.  A young patient, Miklos, gets a dire diagnosis and determines to find love once more before he dies.  A half century before internet dating, he concocts a scheme to get himself in front of every sick Hungarian woman in Sweden.  When he meets his potential soulmate Lili, a moral question rises to the surface – should he share his diagnosis?

Some Holocaust survivors experienced ambivalence about the Jewish identity that led to yellow stars on their clothes and, essentially, targets on their backs.   This ambivalence becomes a significant thread of Fever at Dawn and is addressed more explicitly than usual for a Holocaust (or post-Holocaust)  movies.

Don’t read too much about this movie before seeing it.  There’s an unexpected nugget at the end.

Fever at Dawn’s US Premiere will be on March 2 at Cinequest, with additional Cinequest screenings on March 3, 7 and 9.

ONE DAY IN AUSCHWITZ: an individual, personal testimony

Kitty Hart-Moxon in ONE DAY IN AUSCHWITZ
Kitty Hart-Moxon in ONE DAY IN AUSCHWITZ

Kitty Hart-Moxon is an elderly Holocaust survivor now living in the UK. In One Day in Auschwitz, she takes two seventeen-year-old girls – the same age that she entered the famed Nazi concentration camp – to Auschwitz. She guides them around the camp and narrates her experiences there.  We already know about the horrors, but her matter-of-fact testimony helps us appreciate the extra lengths that the Nazis took to dehumanize, in addition to murdering, their victims.  It’s a very personal account and a compelling one.

One Day in Auschwitz is now playing on Showtime.

DVD/Stream of the Week: IDA

IdaThe Polish drama Ida, which I first saw at this year’s Cinequest, is now available on video.  I currently rate it as (next to Boyhood) the best movie I’ve seen this year.

The title character is a novice nun who has been raised in a convent orphanage. Just before she is to take her vows in the early 1960s, she is told for the first time that she has an aunt. She meets the aunt, and Ida learns that she is the survivor of a Jewish family killed in the Holocaust. The aunt takes the novice on an odd couple road trip to trace the fate of their family.

The chain-smoking aunt (Agata Kulesza) is a judge who consumes vast quantities of vodka to self-medicate her own searing memories. But the most profound difference isn’t that the aunt is a hard ass and that the nun is prim and devout. The most important contrast is between their comparative worldliness – the aunt has been around the block and the novice is utterly naive and inexperienced (both literally and figuratively virginal). The young woman must make the choice between a future that follows her upbringing or one which her biological heritage opens to her. As Ida unfolds, her family legacy makes her choice an informed one.

The novice Ida, played by newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska, is very quiet – but hardly fragile. Saying little, she takes in the world with a penetrating gaze and a just-under-the-surface magnetic strength.

Superbly photographed in black and white, each shot is exquisitely composed. Watching shot after shot in Ida is like walking through a museum gazing at masterpiece paintings one after the other. Ida was directed and co-written by Pawel Pawlikowski, who also recently directed the British coming of age story My Summer of Love (with Emily Blunt) and the French thriller The Woman in the Fifth (with Kristin Scott Thomas and Ethan Hawke). He is an effective and economic story-teller, packing textured characters and a compelling story into an 80 minute film.

Ida is also successful in avoiding grimness. Pawlikowski has crafted a story which addresses the pain of the characters without being painful to watch. There’s some pretty fun music from a touring pop/jazz combo and plenty of wicked sarcasm from the aunt.

Ida won the International Critics’ Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. Ida was my pick as the best film at Cinequest, where it won the Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature.

Ida is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon Instant, YouTube, Google Play and Xbox Video.

Ida: best movie of the year so far

IdaOpening more widely tomorrow, the Polish drama Ida, which I saw at this year’s Cinequest, is the best movie I’ve seen this year.

The title character is a novice nun who has been raised in a convent orphanage. Just before she is to take her vows in the early 1960s, she is told for the first time that she has an aunt. She meets the aunt, and Ida learns that she is the survivor of a Jewish family killed in the Holocaust. The aunt takes the novice on an odd couple road trip to trace the fate of their family.

The chain-smoking aunt (Agata Kulesza) is a judge who consumes vast quantities of vodka to self-medicate her own searing memories. But the most profound difference isn’t that the aunt is a hard ass and that the nun is prim and devout. The most important contrast is between their comparative worldliness – the aunt has been around the block and the novice is utterly naive and inexperienced (both literally and figuratively virginal).  The young woman must make the choice between a future that follows her upbringing or one which her biological heritage opens to her.  As Ida unfolds, her family legacy makes her choice an informed one.

The novice Ida, played by newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska, is very quiet – but hardly fragile. Saying little, she takes in the world with a penetrating gaze and a just-under-the-surface magnetic strength.

Superbly photographed in black and white, each shot is exquisitely composed. Watching shot after shot in Ida is like walking through a museum gazing at masterpiece paintings one after the other.  Ida was directed and co-written by Pawel Pawlikowski, who also recently directed the British coming of age story My Summer of Love (with Emily Blunt) and the French thriller The Woman in the Fifth (with Kristin Scott Thomas and Ethan Hawke).  He is an effective and economic story-teller, packing textured characters and a compelling story into an 80 minute film.

Ida is also successful in avoiding grimness. Pawlikowski has crafted a story which addresses the pain of the characters without being painful to watch. There’s some pretty fun music from a touring pop/jazz combo and plenty of wicked sarcasm from the aunt.

Ida won the International Critics’ Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.  Ida was my pick as the best film at Cinequest, where it won the Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature.

Cinequest: Ida

IdaThe Polish drama Ida is a gem – one of the best movies at this year’s Cinequest.  The title character is a novice nun who has been raised in a convent orphanage. Just before she is to take her vows in the early 1960s, she is told for the first time that she has an aunt.  She meets the aunt, and Ida learns that she is the survivor of a Jewish family killed in the Holocaust.  The aunt takes the novice on an odd couple road trip to trace the fate of their family.

The chain-smoking aunt (Agata Kulesza) is a judge and consumes vast quantities of vodka to self-medicate her own searing memories. But the most profound difference isn’t that the aunt is a hard ass and that the nun is prim and devout.  The most important contrast is between the worldly aunt (who has been around the block) and the utterly naive and inexperienced novice.  The young woman must make the choice between a future that follows her upbringing or one which her biological heritage opens to her.  As Ida unfolds, her family legacy makes her choice an informed one.

The novice Ida, played by newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska, is very quiet but anything but fragile.  Saying little, she takes in the world with a penetrating gaze and a just-under-the-surface magnetic strength.

Superbly photographed in black and white, each shot is exquisitely composed.  Watching shot after shot in Ida is like walking through a museum gazing at masterpiece paintings one after the other.  Ida was directed and co-written by Pawel Pawlikowski, who also recently directed the British coming of age story My Summer of Love (with Emily Blunt) and the French thriller The Woman in the Fifth (with Kristin Scott Thomas and Ethan Hawke).  He is an effective and economic story-teller, packing textured characters and a compelling story into an 80 minute film.

Ida is also successful in avoiding grimness. Pawlikowski has crafted a story which addresses the pain of the characters without being painful to watch.  There’s some pretty fun music from a touring pop/jazz combo and plenty of wicked sarcasm from the aunt.

Ida won the International Critics’ Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.  Ida plays just one more time at Cinequest (unless it makes the Encore Day program) – on this Sunday, March 9, at noon.

DVD of the Week: Sarah’s Key

Kristin Scott Thomas stars in another French film, this time as a journalist tracking the story of a girl during the WWII roundup of Jews in France.  Her probe of events almost sixty years in the past becomes more and more personal, and profoundly entangles more and more people.  It’s a compelling story, and no actor can portray intensity and doggedness better than Scott Thomas.  Co-stars Niels Arestrup (A Prophet) and Aidan Quinn.

The essential Holocaust films

This week, Sarah’s Key and The Debt explore aspects of the Holocaust.  Sarah’s Key is the story of the French round-up of French Jews in 1942, and of how a present day investigation shakes up several lives.  The Debt is about a team of three Mossad agents  charged with kidnapping a Nazi war criminal out of 1964’s East Berlin – and how they must revisit the mission 30 years later.   I recommend both movies.

The Holocaust has inspired many movies.  Here is my list of the 5 Essential Holocaust Films.

One of them is the 2002 documentary Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary.   One of the central questions of the Holocaust is how could ordinary humans tolerate and even enable such monstrous acts?  Blind Spot is the story of Traudl Junge who, as a rural, naive 22-year-old, happened on a job in Hitler’s secretarial pool.  After the war, she lived in obscurity for decades.  Wracked with guilt, she was interviewed for 90 minutes shortly before her death by a filmmaker who lost his parents in the Holocaust.  This 90 minute interview is the core of Blind Spot.