"Delight and Disillusion"
by Fabien Lemercier
- Meeting with a multilingual director who walks like a rock star but talks like a philosopher
On a brief visit to Paris after a promotional tour in America, the Polish-born Pawel Pawlikowski tells Cineuropa about the making of My Summer of Love [+see also:
interview: Jean-Paul Rougier
interview: Pawel Pawlikowski
interview: Tanya Seghatchian
film profile], whose success singles its director out as a rising star in European cinema. Meeting with a multilingual director who walks like a rock star but talks like a philosopher.
Cineuropa: What was it about Helen Cross’s novel that made you want to film it?
Pawel Pawlikowski: Although the book per se held little interest for me, I was attracted to the character of Mona, her attitude, her humour and her naïvety. The novel is full of the Anglo-Saxon type of sociological detail, and it has a complicated plot, and both these features don’t particularly interest me. I kind of stumbled across the book when I was working on a film about Sylvia Plath, a “Hollywood star” vehicle which was not without its difficulties as I had no control over the film. When I read My Summer of Love, I immediately fell in love with the character and, better still, knew that I could mould it and make a film that had a genuine craftsman’s feel to it.
Why did you again make a film with women as the main characters, as The Last Resort, too, was?
It’s difficult to explain, but women represent something that is not – but at the same time is – me. There’s a tension there, a discovery, but I really feel that we have a certain perversity in common, and a conscience that revolves around itself, that destroys itself. The world is not divided up into men and women, but rather into those whose conscience is enhanced by fantasy, who are seeking and who require transcendence in art or religion, and consumers satisfied with the world as it is.
Behind the love story of the two teenage girls, is there a subtext comprising good and evil as represented by the character of Mona’s brother and the Born Again Christians?
There’s no hidden agenda, but rather a series of echoes, images and archetypal phrases that emerge courtesy of their place in our culture. But let’s not read anything deeply metaphysical into it. I just needed another character who knows about life but who remains a private person, who wants to lose himself, transcend his environment. A man whose life has reached a dead end but who still has the guts to take on something else, a quality very rare in England and, more generally, in a society like ours. This intense character enables the creation of another emotional relationship, the one between brother and sister, a kind of “love let down”. It’s a film about delight and disillusion with regard to the idea of religion or to the attraction of a character such as the apparently mythical Tamsin who hands Mona the keys to the doors of a new world.
Why this wish to film the English countryside with these really bright (to saturation point, almost) colours?
To reacquaint myself with that countryside and create a more down-to-earth, passion-driven environment that suited the story more. I am fascinated by the Yorkshire countryside, and by the challenge of avoiding lighting that is, by turns, grey, brown, green. A special light has to be created, certain colours have to be highlighted in order to unearth the essence of the countryside as it appears in the broad daylight of the afternoon.
Your film is resolutely non-explanatory. Is this your style or is it linked to this script in particular?
I’ve written a relatively classic story, but I want each scene to stand on its own, to have a life of its own and for the film to grow one step at a time, in such a way that you can’t see the strings being pulled. My aim is to distil reality through ambiguous situations. Because life does have its mystery. Stories involve reinterpretation, but, in reality, everything is ambiguous, slippery. The best thing is to make the audience forget that they’re watching a story. I’m a big fan of Czechoslovak new wave films (Milos Forman...) where reality expresses itself, where it’s not just a question of letting the cameras roll. I also love the early films of Terence Malick and Martin Scorsese.
Was My Summer of Love an easy film to get into production?
It was very difficult to find the money to make a film without any big names and for a book that wasn’t topping the bestseller lists. So the budget (1.5 million pounds sterling) was insufficient. In addition, I like to take my time, to ponder over the pre-production options. As My Summer of Love has been successful – commercially, too – and is putting bums on seats in the States, I might have a budget of 20 % more for my next film. I’ve written three scripts and suspect that the first project to take off will be the one that’s the least expensive: one about three men building fences in the countryside from hell.
What do you think of contemporary Polish and European films?
Polish films no longer interest people; in fact, they no longer interest Poles. In England, something similar’s happening. Local audiences don’t go to theaters to see England on the big screen, they get enough of that on TV, so they go to the flicks to see anything but. In France, there are always interesting films giving voice to particular opinions but, in my view, European cinema these days is best represented by independent American filmmakers (Anderson, Jarmusch...) or by the new generation of Argentinian directors.