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Pawel Pawlikowski • Director

"Filming is like a dance of the director with others"


- Pawel Pawlikowski tells the story of his return to his roots with the award-winning Ida, directed in Poland in back and white

Pawel Pawlikowski • Director

Encounter with the filmmaker of Polish origin, who is back in his native country for the Ida [+see also:
film review
interview: Pawel Pawlikowski
interview: Pawel Pawlikowski
film profile
adventure, a black and white film that has won many awards since its world premiere in Toronto.

Cineuropa: Ida is your first film entirely made in Poland. Is this the result of a long-term desire or a simple matter of circumstances?
Pawel Pawlikowski: I had wanted to direct a film in Poland for a long time but it didn’t work as I knew nothing of the Polish reality. But I strongly felt that I needed this personal return, to come back to the landscapes and atmospheres of my childhood that had remained in my memory. In a way I wanted to return to the Poland that is close to my heart, to the 1960’s that I idealize.

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Was this return difficult?
Yes, especially in the context of the film’s production, very difficult even, because Poland has changed tremendously. When I looked for landscapes, I was frightened because I couldn’t find what I had in mind. I wanted to recreate the universe I once knew. Finally, after long searches, we found a few landscape fragments, in the countryside but also in Lodz, which, as is shown in the film, didn’t change that much.

Was the first version of the screenplay, which was written over ten years ago, very different from the one you finally directed?  
Yes, the first screenplay, which I wrote with Cezary Harasimowicz, contained much more action. In fact, in my case, the idea of a film never ends behind a computer screen. I have a story, some shots, a structure, sequences, etc... but I only start really engaging when I begin directing, when I look for sets, actors, when I rewrite the text several times... the work of the actors is also very important. It brings new ideas that I can incorporate or not, change again and again. And I am not afraid of change, even during filming.  

Speaking of the casting, how did you find Agata Trzebuchowska? This is her first cinematographic experience, she is not an actress and she says she doesn’t wish to become one.
At the casting stage, we met and tested between 300 and 400 young actresses. But through the camera’s lens, I always felt they weren’t what I was looking for. I was a little desperate, and, when I returned to Paris, after the failure of the casting, I received a call from Malgoska Szumowska to whom I had told I was in a difficult situation: I had to start the filming in a few days and I had no actress. Malgoska told me that in the café she was in, there was a woman across from her who didn’t look like a nun but seemed like a very interesting person. I asked her to take a picture of that woman with her cell phone discretely. She did and sent me the picture in Paris. That’s how we found and finally hired Agata Trzebuchowska.

Was the choice easier for the other key role in the film, that of the aunt, the communist Jewish government official kept away from power?
Much easier. I chose Agata Kulesza who is perfect for the role. She perceived it well and it came to her naturally. Wanda is a peculiar character, very ambiguous, with, in some ways, two personalities. She changes, leaves her “comfort zone”, then returns... But the film has no didactic goal and although the character of Wanda is ambiguous, it does not constitute the portrait of anyone specific. It is just a common creation between Agata and me.

Did the choice of filming in black and white make finding funding more difficult?
When I presented the idea of this format for the film to one of the investors, he said laughingly: “Stop it, you’re not a student anymore.” And he nearly walked away from the film. For me, this format was completely adequate for this story. I had a very clear vision: black and white, long shots with a fixed camera, very large angles and characters standing on the edge. And it worked. The film itself imposed this model and it was not possible to shoot otherwise. I had a very intense dialogue with cinematographer Lukasz Zal. When you have a good partner, a good team of collaborators, you can obtain a result of great quality. This was the case with the two main actresses, but also with actors Adam Ogrodnik and Adam Szyszkowski. I chose very good actors and strong characters. I was very lucky.

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(Translated from French)

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