Mise en Scène, Mozart, and a Borrowed Chorale: Learned Style and Identity in Pawlikowski’s Ida

In: Music, Narrative and the Moving Image


Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida, revered for its visual elements and unique cinematography, has gained considerable attention since its 2014 international release. In addition to its stunning black and white photography and academy ratio format, the film imparts multivalent layers of meaning with its score, which uses preexisting music almost exclusively. The music is largely contemporaneous with the film’s 1960s setting, however two selections stand out as uniquely meaningful: Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony and Busoni’s transcription of Bach’s “Ich ruf’ zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ”. In fact, inasmuch as Pawlikowski formulates his two primary characters, employing mise en scène to demonstrate psychological and emotional conditions, he deploys these two musical works as supplemental indicators of these characters’ respective motivations. In this paper, I will discuss the hermeneutic representation of preexisting music as it establishes and even alters filmic narrative. Through analysis of text, texture, and form, I will describe the auteur’s unique presentation of narrative nuance, both connotative and denotative.

The titular character’s internal struggle, a dominant component in the narrative, is both complex and dynamic. The same could be said for the protagonist’s aunt, Wanda, though the two share few similarities. Coincidentally, however, each is driven by music. The music not only acts as supplement to the dramatic presentation of each character, but as an interpreter between act and significance. For Ida, who is driven to an austere, repressed existence, Bach/Busoni’s music frees her from external forces and allows her introspective identity to crystalize. For Wanda, a retired judge who is constantly driven from the very order and discipline for which she is publicly known, Mozart’s symphony is an addiction that modifies her behavior.

Music, Narrative and the Moving Image

Varieties of Plurimedial Interrelations



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