Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Interview: Pawel Pawlikowski on Cold War

Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War, like his Oscar-winning Ida, highlights a traumatic period in Poland’s recent history, and how a brutal political reality warps people’s lives. In the film, Poland’s totalitarian government and the iron curtain that separates the country from the West is hardly the only thing that keeps doomed lovers Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and Zula (Joanna Kulig) apart, but it’s certainly the main one. It also interferes with their ability to do good work. Wiktor is the co-founder a troupe that performs Polish folk music and dances. Zula is the star of the troupe, whose initially artistic performances become steadily more maudlin and nationalistic under the heavy hand of Kaczmarek (Borys Szyc), the communist bureaucrat who runs the company.

After the film’s premiere at the New York Film Festival, Pawlikowski talked to me about the echoes of modern politics that Polish audiences detect in Cold War, how the film eluded the grasp of the propagandists who maligned Ida, and why he doesn’t stick too closely to his scripts.

I’ve seen two of your earliest movies, My Summer of Love and your first documentary, about Russian writer and dissident Benedict Yerofeyev. Ida and Cold War felt to me like they’re operating on a whole different, much deeper level. Did they feel different to you too?

It’s age. Age and experience. A mixture of, you know, calming down, maturing, craft. I never went to film school, so I did all my learning on the job. A lot of these early films are just rescue jobs—a good idea, and they generally work, because there’s something about them. I was usually just gripped by a story. Benedict was a writer I really loved, so I had to make a film about him. He was dying, and there was nothing to film. I had to invent a whole film around his book, so I pieced it together any old how, as poetically as possible.

Regarding My Summer of Love, I had done a few fiction films before that, but the budget was still quite small. Also, I wasn’t quite in control of my methods. There were some shots I worked out that didn’t quite come off. And the two actresses [Natalie Press and Emily Blunt] at some point stopped getting on.

Now I’m calm. I don’t get flustered and stick to my guns. It has something to do with where you are in life and, in some ways, being impatient with cinema. You often make something just to make the kind of film you’d like to see, and not to use the same weapons that everyone else is using, for emotional rhetoric. Also, time is a big factor. I don’t make films too often. So, every time I make a new one, I’m somewhere else than when I was making one before.

Ida and Cold War are also your only two films that are about Poland. Do you think that had something to do with it?

Yeah. I went back to live in Poland, and there are reasons why I’m there. Not just to make films, but [to find] all these stories that were always there.

Read the rest in Slant Magazine

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