Ida is the first Foreign Language Oscar win for Poland, but the 10th time a film from the country has been nominated since 1963. Pawel Pawlikowski’s intimate black-and-white drama itself had a long road to the podium tonight. It played Telluride all the way back in 2013, but missed the Oscar cutoff date that year, and rolled out throughout 2014 internationally. Over its career, it has won numerous prizes including the European Film Award, top honors at Poland’s Oscars, the BAFTA two weeks ago and yesterday’s Indie Spirit. Accepting that trophy in Santa Monica yesterday, Pawlikowski cracked up the audience saying, “Thank you my competitors for losing this time.”

Tonight, he added, to big laughs on stage, “How did I get here? Life is full of surprises. We made a film about quiet and contemplation — and here we are in the center of noise and world attention.” (He was also promptly played off.)

Backstage tonight holding his Oscar, the director also exhibited a little humor, saying that when he was played off the stage during his acceptance speech he had planned to say: “This is great and wonderful, but my kids are the most important thing. It’s the kind of thing Americans would have loved.”

IdaSet in 1962, Ida follows a young novitiate nun who learns she was born Jewish and sets off on a journey of discovery with Wanda, the aunt she has just found out exists, uncovering dark family secrets along the way.

Pawlikowski added backstage tonight that he refuses to call Ida “a Holocaust movie like they call it in the States. For me the film is very Polish (not a Polish-Jewish film but) about different versions of Polish-ness.”

Vexingly for the helmer, whose first Polish film this is, increased international attention on the awards circuit this year led to a controversy in Poland where the Anti-Defamation League accused the film of failing to acknowledge the German occupation of Poland, calling it “anti-Polish.”

In response, Pawlikowski told me last month, “Ida doesn’t set out to explain history. That’s not what it’s about. The story is focused on very concrete and complex characters who are full of humanity with all its paradoxes. They’re not pawns used to illustrate some version of history or an ideology. Life is complicated, why can’t art be complicated?”