Cold War (Zimna Wojna) press conference with Pawel Pawlikowski, Joanna Kulig cast and crew
After receiving a warm reception the previous evening, filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski and his cast and crew joined the press for a lighthearted chat (with even a few a few jokes thrown around!) to speak about Cold War, in conversation with the director’s previous Oscar-winning Ida, the creative process and of course the production of this tragic, classic love story.
First of all, I’d like to thank you for the film last night. It was really amazing. I noticed some thematic similarities, the black-and-white time period, even some of the music that’re very close to Ida. Did you have this movie in mind when you were making Ida?
Pawel Pawlikowski: I thought of this film long before I made Ida. Ida encouraged me to do it. I realised how to do it because I wasn’t sure before how to tell this complicated love story; but making Ida and seeing how it came together carried me to this.
Pawel, after the Oscar and before Limonov, how do you focus on telling these stories?
PP: It takes years so you have time. Like most stories I end up doing, I started it and put it down and came back to it, adding elements I thought made it live and grow. Everyone has three or four stories they like to tell and then you’ve just got to wait for the right moment for it to come together. And then it does.
You and Lukasz worked together already on Ida. How was it to work together again on this project.?
PP: We already have a shorthand. We knew we didn’t want to repeat Ida because it’s a different kind of story. We originally thought to do it in colour because why not, but we couldn’t find the right palette and then we thought of trying to use an effect to make it look like Soviet film stock, but that would look too mannered. We realised it would look more honest in black and white since the world is clearly metaphorically such. But it’s much more “contrasty” than Ida: deeper shots, more layers and, of course the music! The whole thing was much more dynamic, more alive.
Lukasz Zal: We spent a lot of time just sitting reading the script, watching movies, listening to music – really building the picture. That was amazing. It wouldn’t have worked in colour because there’s no colour in Poland!
PP: We spent a lot of time thinking about the shots. There aren’t a lot of them so we really wanted to improve the ones we had over and over again. Like we talked about with the sound it was a constant calibration, much to the frustration of actors sometimes. But that’s what really excites me in cinema – is that everything is part of the same process. It’s painful, especially for producers who wonder if the film is ever going to be finished, but it’s worth it.
LZ: Yes, it’s the only way to do it. You have to follow the film. This film was always changing; it wasn’t as clear initially as Ida. We had to just watch it and follow what it gave us.
PP: At some point the film starts directing itself. Bad dialogue or acting or lighting jumps out and you know it’s wrong.
Joanna Kulig: Yes, the crew was always ready for changes. I remember Ewa, we were sitting once joking about what Pawel would change by the morning!
Ewa Puszcynska: What we sometimes forget nowadays is that film is not just a story, it’s a piece of art. When you make a piece of art you have to allow yourself to follow the process. That’s the beauty of working with Pawel although, yes, sometimes it can be a nightmare, but you know that it’s based on mutual trust and that the changes he wants to make are for the good of the film. It’s a process I’d like to repeat again.
This movie focuses on the concept of a homeland. How do you define that and what is the significance?
PP: I consider homeland to be a very broad term but not in the nationalistic kind of way that’s currently in fashion. I think of it as a sphere of emotionally inquisitive cultural space in which you grow up. In my case, I lived abroad most of my life but when I came back to Poland I just felt at home although Poland has changed quite a lot. And language. It’s important.
There’s clearly a sense of nostalgia in both this film and in Ida. Why do you think this topic is so creatively stimulating for you?
PP: I don’t think nostalgia is the driving force in my films but I definitely miss the simplicity of a world that’s not so crowded with images and information and noise.
Cold War is impressive for several reasons but notably for the sound engineering. How was it to work with the sound crew?
PP: Last night all I could hear were doors opening and mobile phones; I really suffered! We spent a lot of time on the sound because this is a film that doesn’t have a lot of film music and that doesn’t have a lot of action in terms of shots and cuts. With Ida as well, it’s very precise, painstaking work to bring life to that world in a very selective way. It’s not entirely dead and silent but it’s not distracting. It took ages and ages to get the sound mix right! As with all other aspects of making the film, it was a constant calibrating.
Actors, what had Pawel told you about the project previously and what questions did you have for him?
JK: It was a long process. A lot of sitting, waiting, changing something. The script was changing every day. But for me, the most important thing was creating something sensitive. Sometimes when we were on set and we had to repeat something, sometimes 15, 20, or 30 times because Pawel is like that, and I remember it being late at night and I started feeling like a completely empty person. But it worked! This is a difficult method but it worked.
The chemistry between the main actors is just extraordinary. How was it to work together?
JK: It was difficult to find this chemistry but we worked hard on it. Zula is so up and down and Wiktor is so calm; they want to be together but they can’t be and it’s a difficult relationship to portray.
Tomasz Kot: We spent a lot of time in a lot of places and in some moments we were like brother and sister. It was something wonderful. We were a couple in another movie but it was completely different.
JK: I always had to wear high heels because of course Tomasz Kot is so tall!
PP: Tomasz has the great technique of making himself smaller.
TK: (heavily accented) In Poland we don’t have so big money for movies so I must when cinematographer needs.
Boris, what was it like for you to work with Pawel?
The sentence that best describes Pawel is “work in progress”. Only great artists can admit that they don’t know sometimes. This “I don’t know” makes you more creative and opens you up to the creativity of others.
A lot of the greatest love stories are told from the lens of post-war Europe. Why is that era such fertile ground for romantic tales?
PP: Well, I think because there were a lot of obstacles around at the time and to love was really another obstacle. Also, for me, love stories these days are so distracted. We’re always on our phones and surrounded by so much noise; you can’t just see someone, fall in love and pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist. In the years of the film things were more graphic and dramatic and feeling went deeper. They had to, a lot of other stuff was going on. Nostalgia, not for the politics of course but for the clarity. Clarity away from the noise.
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Why did you choose France and Yugoslavia as the countries the characters trek to?
France is good place of exile for Poles traditionally. Also, it’s like the opposite of Poland. For a foreigner especially Paris is a very romantic salon life and can feel very poetic. It was the perfect place to put them to destroy their relationship. Yugoslavia at the time was a third country, it was a socialist country and had good communication with the Eastern Bloc but it was independent. Strategically it was a good location because there was a secret police that would have dealt with him a certain way to avoid diplomatic problems and Tomasz’s character would have been allowed to travel there with French papers.
You’ve made several films about Poland and have referenced the film school. How are you connected to historic Polish cinema?
PP: While it’s of course been an influence I actually feel more connected to Czech New Wave cinema. I love Polish films but it’s a different aesthetic. It’s more expressive and clear. I like a little more mystery.
The film is dedicated to your parents; why is that?
PP: There’s a lot my parents have in common with this couple, including their names strangely enough. They were kind of a disastrous couple who fell in love, separated, fell in love again, married other people, got together again, changed countries, fell apart, got together again, and so on. It’s not their portrait but the mechanics of the relationship are quite similar.
Cold War (Zimna Wojna) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.