A film about a Polish Catholic nun won an Oscar. Why haven't you seen it?

A film about a Polish Catholic nun won an Oscar. Why haven’t you seen it?

I often hear Catholics (myself included) complaining about the lack of the true, the good, and the beautiful in modern society – particularly when it comes to entertainment media.

So when a film about a Polish Catholic nun (Ida) won an Oscar for best foreign film a few weeks ago, I was excited to see what the Catholic world had to say about a film that finally (FINALLY) treats the faith as something with authentic depth, something that includes both suffering and beauty.

But it’s amazing how silent the greater Catholic world has been on this film.

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I tried to write an article about “Ida”, and I reached out to many people and organizations I consider go-to’s when it comes to Catholic culture – specifically film – and I received very few responses. Some people had never heard of the film, some had heard of it but hadn’t seen it. And maybe some people had seen it and simply didn’t want to talk about it.

I even put out desperate pleas on social media to see if any of my larger circle of friends had seen the film. (Please please please, has anyone seen this movie? One person responded.)

Why?

Why has the Catholic world been so (mostly) silent on this? Is it because it’s a foreign film and so no one heard about it? Is it because no one has 80 minutes to spare to watch it on Netflix? Is it because it includes complex characters in all their humanity who don’t perfectly embody sainthood at all moments?

Well, it won an Oscar, you’re reading this blog, and you’ve already seen all of House of Cards, and neither do you, so enough with the excuses.

In my opinion, this is a film we should be shouting about from the rooftops.

First of all, on a purely ascetic level, the film is gorgeous. It is completely black and white, adding a feeling of starkness and desperation to the already desperate situation in which the two main characters find themselves. Also, almost all of the scenes are filmed with a single shot, a stark contrast from the jumpy action shots typical in many American movies.

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“Ida” also provides an interesting historical look at post-war Poland. The main character (Ida) is a war orphan raised in the convent in which she is about to make final vows. In a moment showing great wisdom, the Mother Superior of the convent suggests she learn about her family roots before making her vows. Ida meets her only living aunt and discovers that her family was Jewish and they all perished in the war. Her aunt now works as a state judge for the Communist party, which ruled Poland for decades after the war.

But perhaps the best plug I can give for the movie comes from it’s own writer and director, Pawel Pawlikowski, who said that above anything else, his film was about the need for silence:

“How did I get here?” Pawlikowski said. “We made a film about black-and-white, the need for silence and withdrawal from the world and contemplation. And here we are at the center of noise and world attention. Fantastic. Life is full of surprises.”

Now if that isn’t the most Catholic of all Oscar’s acceptance speeches, I don’t know what is. (I’m speaking metaphorically; this is not a challenge for you to scrounge around on the internet to find yet a MORE Catholic Oscar’s acceptance speech. But I guess if you want to, be my guest.)

My point is this: the Catholic Church used to be THE greatest creator and patron of the arts in the WORLD. We need to step it up once again. And if that means paying a bit more attention to the Oscars (and foreign films) to find where the gems lie, then so be it. It also means not patroning movies that slap the Jesus sticker on an otherwise poorly-made film and call it good, just because it mentions the Lord. Christianity cannot be an excuse for mediocrity in the arts.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, others have expressed this idea far more articulately than me. Here are some examples:

Why are Christian movies so bad?: http://www.vox.com/2015/2/15/8038283/christian-movies-bad-old-fashioned-fifty-shades

Why can’t Christian films be better?: http://www.crisismagazine.com/2012/why-cant-christian-films-be-better

Five reasons to kill Christian music: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/badcatholic/2013/02/killchristianmusi.html

Christianity and the arts: http://www.impactingculture.com/2015/01/27/christianity-arts/

Pope St. John Paul II wrote about the special vocation of artists. He says that not everyone is called to be an artist in the creative sense of the word, and that those whose vocation it is to be artists should produce things that are worthwhile and beautiful. Definitely worth a read: http://www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp2artis.htm

So if you’re an artist, you best be producing good art. If you’re a Catholic, you best be consuming and supporting good art.

You can start today by devoting 80 minutes of your time to Netflix watching “Ida”. You’re not allowed to complain about a lack of beautiful films today until you do.