Pawlikowski’s ‘Ida’ was honored by the 2015 Academy Awards

February 25, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 25, 2015

The 87th Academy Award ceremony, which took place Sunday night, turned out to be rather political. Patricia Arquette, who won best supporting actress for her role as the mother in Boyhood, used her acceptance speech to call for gender wage equality.

When “Glory,” the theme from the wonderful civil rights film Selma, was chosen for best song, musician John Legend said, “We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say that Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now.”

Legend had more to say in his acceptance speech, adding: “We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.” (Legend co-wrote “Glory” with Lonnie Lynn. That musician and actor, who performs under the name Common, appears in Selma as the skullcap- and denim-wearing Rev. John Bevel.)

Liberals were somewhat miffed — rightly, I’d say — by the monochromatic nature of the nominees, who tended to be of the Caucasian persuasion. (Like many, I was baffled that Ava DuVernay didn’t get a best director nomination for Selma, even though the picture was up for the best picture award.) Conservatives got in on the umbrage action on awards night: Some right-minded thinkers were upset that not enough voters targeted American Sniper on their best picture ballots.

I personally didn’t watch the Oscars, but I did happen to notice that one of the most moving pictures I saw last year was honored. Ida, Pawel Pawlikowski’s spare black-and-white film about a Polish orphan exploring her family history, was chosen as the best foreign-language feature.

Pawlikowski and Rebecca Lenkiewicz wrote the movie, which shows how a young woman named Anna struggles to learn about the past and deal with the ongoing fallout from World War II. It was already highly decorated: The British Academy of Film and Television Arts named Ida its top foreign-language film earlier this year, and the movie has been similarly honored by a number of festivals and industry group. Both of the lead actresses — Agata Trzebuchowska as Anna and Agata Kulesza as her stern, initially disinterested aunt — received critical acclaim on the festival circuit.

As it happens, Pawlikowski was interviewed by National Public Radio’s wonderful Terry Gross for Fresh Air a few weeks ago. The episode is available here; it’s well worth listening to, both for Pawlikowski’s personal story of suddenly departing Poland for England during his teenage years as well as for some of the nuggets he offers about the making of Ida. (For instance, Trzebuchowska was discovered by a friend after Pawlikowski had spent weeks struggling to cast the part.)

The movie only played in art houses here in the U.S., but it’s available online through Google Play and Amazon. This beautiful movie is well worth checking out.

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