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Short Takes on film
Ben Nyce | Via Latina


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We don’t see many black and white films in the cinemas. A good one is playing at Landmark La Jolla Village. Unfortunately “Ida” may be gone by the time this issue of the Sandpiper appears – a congenital defect of this column. Netflix will have it eventually, however.

“Ida” is set in Poland in the ‘60s and evokes the tragic history of a country brutalized by Germany and Russia (the great novelist Joseph Conrad fled Poland to escape the fate of his parents – both martyred by Russia in the cause of Polish nationalism – to his eternal anguish). Ida is a young novitiate in a convent. She’s about to take orders as a nun when the mother superior asks her to visit her one remaining relative, her Aunt Wanda. Wanda is a tough, hard drinking judge – the very opposite of Ida’s faithful innocence. Wanda reveals that Ida is Jewish and that her parents were probably murdered and their land taken by local anti-Semites. The two embark on a journey to discover the burial sites.

This journey is filmed in stark, black and white and gray images with a restrained minimalism that makes it all the more powerful. Wanda bears the full burden of Polish history; she’s cynical to the point of nihilism as she carries out the edicts of her Soviet overlords. She refuses to mock Ida’s innocence, however, because she loved her sister so much. Ida’s fate can be likened to the fate of Poland in this period. Her return to the convent, having experienced Wanda’s tough worldliness, seems to say that in one of its darkest moments the country can be sustained by the shadowed spark of Polish Catholicism. “Ida” is a film not easily forgotten.

For home viewing try “The King of Comedy.” As in so many of Scorsese’s best films Robert DeNiro was instrumental in suggesting the script and then providing a superb performance as Rupert Pupkin the manic celebrity pursuer. The film is a study of our celebrity-obsessed culture and, rather than provide light-hearted laughter, takes a bracing, harsh view of that culture. Di Niro’s rendition of Rupert manages to evoke his likeableness as well as his craziness and dangerousness. It’s a performance on a par with his angry father in “This Boy’s Life” and reveals that his recent efforts, like Scorsese’s, have tended to the ordinary.

Nyce taught literature and film at the University of San Diego and wrote “Satyajit Ray” and “Scorsese Up Close.”



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