Love in a cold climate
Polish director Paweł Pawlikowski on the deeply personal inspiration behind post-war love story Cold War
WHEN PAWEŁ PAWLIKOWSKI dreamt up the scenario for gorgeous romantic drama Cold War, he loosely telegraphed his own parents’ turbulent love story onto the story, set against the backdrop of oppressive Communist Poland in the ’50s. The result: a dazzlingly shot black-and-white masterpiece, spanning decades, which picked up the Best Director prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Here, Pawlikowski explains how it came together.
How did your parents inspire the story of Cold War?
My parents inspired and reflect the mechanics of the relationship and temperament in the film. It was a love story I witnessed as a kid: the mother of all love stories, for me. So I’ve been trying to make a film about that kind of relationship for a long time. And some time ago, I almost made a film based on Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath’s relationship which had some similarities. My parents separated, they had other lovers and husbands and wives, and then they met again and left the country, and they quarrelled once more. It took about 40 years for them to be nice to each other, and realise there was nobody in the world closer to them than she or he.
The use of music as a storytelling device in the film is incredible — from Polish folk to French jazz.
Music was always going to be like one of the characters in the film. I wanted to use this folk ensemble in Poland that I grew up with. They turned folk songs into these fully fledged choral pieces and choreographed dances. So when I was a kid, there was a lot of them in the media, because it was an artform the Communist government preferred over bourgeois decadence, western jazz, or rock. I took three songs from the repertoire and used the folk performances, but
I also used them as motifs.
The film is visually stunning. Can you tell me about the style?
The search for locations was a key element. It took months. Split in Croatia is a location I always wanted to use, and we did a lot of walking around in Paris to find streets which could pass for the ’50s. Here and there, we had digital effects. Because it’s mainly set in the ’50s, a lot of background elements were not there anymore, so we had to kind of paint them in. Every shot takes so many elements. I shoot a lot of takes; trying to get everything in one shot. It’s kind of the magic of cinema, when everything comes together: the image, the performance, the emotion, the framing, the light. Everything is kind of delegated, but we’re working together. Directing is making sure you’re building a table with four equal legs. COLD WAR IS IN CINEMAS FROM 31 AUGUST
Top: Bar dance: Zula (Joanna Kulig) gets into her groove. Above: Lovers lane: Zula (Kulig) with Wiktor (Tomasz Kot). Below: Director Paweł Pawlikowski.
Empire spoke to the director on the phone during a busy day of post-cannes press on 13 June.