Pawel Pawlikowski • Director
"I wanted the film to be visually striking"
- CANNES 2018: Oscar-winning Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski talks about his new film, the splendid Cold War, which was unveiled in competition
Flanked by his cast and crew, Poland’s Pawel Pawlikowski, who won an Oscar for Ida [+see also:
interview: Pawel Pawlikowski
interview: Pawel Pawlikowski
film profile], broke down his new film, the magnificent Cold War [+see also:
Q&A: Pawel Pawlikowski
film profile], for the international press. The movie was presented in competition at the 71st Cannes Film Festival, thus marking the director’s first time in the running for the Palme d’Or.
Why does post-war Europe provide such a fertile breeding ground for a love story?
Pawel Pawlikowski: There were a lot of obstacles at that time, and when you fell in love, you had to overcome all of these obstacles. For me, it’s difficult to tell a modern-day love story because people are very preoccupied with things; there are too many phones and images, and too much noise pollution. We no longer have the chance just to look someone in the eye and fall in love. In the era when Cold War is set, things were simpler and there were fewer distractions. Perhaps people themselves were deeper; they had to be because there were fewer ways to keep oneself entertained. I’m obviously not nostalgic for Stalinism, but at that time, there was a sort of clarity and simplicity. Nevertheless, nostalgia is not the driving force behind the film; it’s more a kind of sentimental journey. When you’re looking for images and sounds, the ideas always spring up from the past and from memories, to a certain extent.
How did you work with the two lead actors playing the couple at the heart of the film?
I tried to write the screenplay in images, without giving any exact descriptions of what was happening. As we were nearing the shoot, I wanted us to be able to really sculpt the images, the black and white. I didn’t want the script to be limited only to the dialogue, but rather for the different scenes to work on a visual level, with a very mobile camera. And then, I wanted the film to be striking visually, so we spent a lot of time on each take with the DoP, Lukasz Zal. We didn’t do a lot of takes, but we worked on them a lot, constantly reframing them. And the actors were the victims of this process in a way because they sometimes had to wait for ages until we’d polished everything. But what’s exciting about cinema is that you can work on everything at the same time – the images, the sound and the actors. It’s not like we had a screenplay that was translated into images all in one go, with short takes. Sometimes it’s painful, but I think it’s worth the struggle of working in this way.
Why did you choose the two countries that the storyline shifts to from Poland: France and Yugoslavia?
France is a traditional country of exile for the Poles, and it’s the opposite to Poland. For a foreigner, Paris is a very impenetrable city, and you can end up feeling a bit stifled there. So I thought it would be a good idea to place my two characters in Paris in order to wreck their relationship [laughs]. As for Yugoslavia, there's the interesting visual aspect, but also the fact that at the time, it was a non-aligned country. So the character of Viktor could no longer return behind the Iron Curtain, but he could go to Yugoslavia. On a narrative level, when Poland demands that Viktor be extradited, the Yugoslavs refuse, but they nevertheless force Viktor to go back to Paris.
You shot your last two films in Poland. Do you feel like you’re the heir to a Polish filmmaking tradition?
I love the films by the Polish directors – like those of Wajda, for example. Everyone tells me that I embody the revival of Polish cinema, but I have the impression that I belong more to the tradition of the Nouvelle Vague. I find that my aesthetics are different from those of Polish cinema in general, which is sometimes more outlandish, more flamboyant and more expressive on the verbal level, with dialogues that are a lot more fleshed out than in my films. Personally, I like things to be fairly oblique, a bit mysterious.
The movie is dedicated to your parents. Were they the inspiration for the couple in Cold War?
There are many things that the couple in the film has in common with my parents, including their names, which I was able to use freely because they have both passed away. They were a bit of a catastrophic couple: they fell in love, they split up, they fell in love again, they married other people, they got back together again, they moved to another country, they split up again, and then they ended up together yet again. It’s not a portrait of my parents, but there are certain similarities in the mechanisms of their relationship.
(Translated from French)
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