Paweł Pawlikowski’s 2013 film Ida was exceptionally warmly received in the United States, culminating in the Academy Award for Film Not in the English Language, but it was not without controversy. Sheila Skaff’s introduction to the film explains the historical setting, including the violence that took place in the Polish countryside during World War II and was not exposed for sixty years, and provides political and cultural analysis to aid the reader in understanding the film’s setting and narrative. Skaff also touches on the influence of the film on current events in Poland, where censorship of it by an increasingly nationalist government has polarized the country. It also situates Ida within the contexts of Polish and world film history. Scene-by-scene analysis is accompanied in each chapter by background information that gives context to the aesthetic and narrative choices made by the director.
Sheila Skaff’s meticulous attention to cinematic detail helps us understand the mastery—and the meaning--of Ida. Her close analysis of every scene illuminates Pawlikowski’s approach. When she comments on how Ida mixes genres, or connects John Coltrane to Polish romanticism, Skaff brings fresh insights to a haunting movie. Of particular interest is her timely analysis of the polarizing effects of Ida in Poland: what she rightly calls filmic poetry engendered political controversy.
Annette Insdorf, Columbia University Film Professor, and author of Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust, and Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski
Studying Ida by Sheila Skaff is an intelligent and very efficient monograph on an Oscar-winning film, Paweł Pawlikowski’s Ida (2013). Meticulously researched and elegantly written, the book reveals many of this film’s important layers, including politics and history. Skaff produces an insightful study and an indispensable teaching aid.
J. Marek Haltof, Professor of Film Studies, Northern Michigan University
Sheila Skaff has written a lucid, intellectually expansive account of one of the most important Eastern European films of the last decade. She casts a wide net into relevant areas of Polish cinema, music and poetry to highlight Pawlikowski’s sources for his best film to date, opening perspectives for readers to investigate what she rightly calls the 'cultural predicament' Ida has posed. At a moment when highly politicized debates are raging in Poland about what memories of World War II are appropriate, Studying Ida makes a most useful contribution to the ongoing discussions.
Stuart Liebman, Professor Emeritus of Film Studies, CUNY Graduate Center
There isn't a Polish film in recent memory that would have inspired as much admiration, debate, domestic controversy and international recognition as Paweł Pawlikowski's Ida. With this singularly focused study, Sheila Skaff proves herself once again to be a skillful and elegant reader of Polish film: at once fully aware of the cinematic traditions Ida belongs to, as well as swiftly navigating the complex historical context it emerges from.
Michał Oleszczyk, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Film Studies at Artes Liberales Department (University of Warsaw)