Pawel Pawlikoski arrived in Cannes with the first bone fide critical hit of the 2018 competition, a meticulously composed, time-spanning romance that charts the stormy but passionate relationship between musicologist Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and singer Zula (Joanna Kulig). Beginning in the austere years of postwar Poland, the film proceeds to jump all around Europe as the volatile duo begin to realize that, although they should never be together, they can never be apart.
Shot in black and white, using the Academy ratio, the film follows the template of Pawlikowski’s last festival hit Ida (2014), but the director—nursing a broken foot caused by a sporting mishap—revealed that Cold War is a much more personal project. Asked what the starting point was, he told me, “The story of a couple like this has been with me for ages. I dedicated it to my parents, because it’s somewhat inspired by their tempestuous relationship—they had [both] a great love and a great war. Their separations, betrayals, getting together again, moving countries, changing partners, getting together again—that story has always been in the back of my head, as a kind of a matrix of all love stories. So I knew I had to do it.” He laughed. “I once told this story to a friend of mine, Alfonso Cuarón. He said, ‘Cabrón, you’re going to make it. This is the best story you’ve ever told me.’ I thought, ‘Yeah, it is!’”
Nevertheless, the film took a while to get past the concept stage, until Ida gave Pawlikowski the confidence and inspiration he needed to go forward. “I worked on it and worked on it [over the years], but I didn’t quite know how to make [the story] work,” he said, “because it’s such a shapeless thing, real life, [isn’t it]? But, then after Ida, which was made kind of simply and very elliptically, I thought maybe this is the way to do it. Just tell it without explaining too much, without having too much cause and effect. Just show different stages and people will fill in the gaps. When I found that out, I knew I could do it. I wasn’t sure it would work for the audience but I could see it would work for me.”
It certainly worked for Cannes audiences and critics, who predict big things for the film at the festival’s closing night awards ceremony this coming Saturday.
To view Deadline’s conversation with the Cold War director, click above.