Unfortunately, The Sound of Music (1965) is still regarded as the most iconic film about life as a nun.
Ida’s relationship with her aunt Wanda has the feeling of a feminist buddy cop film: two connected people with distinctive personalities and philosophical differences, yet still with a sense of unity. Ida with a sense of devout Christianity; Wanda with a less devout religious feeling. But the film doesn’t spell this out; its most powerful moments are told in silence, within frames filled with blank space. There’s a sense of distance in the frame; a distance from the viewer; a distance between the characters, perhaps a distance from God. Almost every frame of this film is a photograph in itself, forming a cross – so ubiquitous and so universal, it can be formed of anything – God holding a presence everywhere. Ida doesn’t lose her faith per se, but it does seem to lessen.
She has to reconcile her Christian faith with her Jewish heritage. She survived the war because of her gender and because of her youth. In some ways, it feels a stronger portrait of the Holocaust than a film directly set in Auschwitz. Poland’s Jewish population was decimated during the Second World War. There remain a handful of synagogues, yet the war drastically altered the community, reinforcing Christianity. Even after the war, it remains a hidden identity for Ida, and the local community don’t seem to remember the Jews.
Over the course of the film, Ida becomes more naked, liberated from a very secluded life. The Jewish community spent the war contained within limited physical spaces – ghettos; death camps. This sense of seclusion continues to manifest within other power systems, like the nunnery, even with the war long over. But the frame is also secluding, relying on the contained space of the frame within long shots.
In private, she removes her headdress, to show her beautiful ginger hair – as a viewer, we cannot see this beauty in monochrome, but can hear Wanda’s appreciation of it. Against her earlier refusal, she goes to listen to the live music, and meets a boy who feels attraction to her. Later on, she decides to wear the dress she was once adamant against, showing more flesh. She removes her shoes, until she has both lost her clothes and lost her virginity. She drinks. She becomes the “slut” rather than the “saint”, to use Wanda’s terms – echoing her character. But at the prospect of “life” (normality), she walks away, still as much a nun as she was before.