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.

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