Pawel Pawlikowski’s sweeping romance Cold War was one of the buzz films out of the Cannes Film Festival and has been playing to acclaim on the festival circuit. The passionate love story, starring Polish actors Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot, follows two people of different backgrounds and temperaments, who are fatefully mismatched, set against the background of the Cold War in the 1950s in Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris.

Cold War
Protagonist Pictures

For Ida director Pawlikowski, the story had a very personal resonance. “I always carried this love story with me,” the filmmaker said during last week’s The Contenders London panel for Cold War, which Amazon releases stateside December 21 and is Poland’s submission to the Foreign Language Oscar race. “It’s similar to my parents’ volatile and hectic marriage…and divorce…and marriage…it was a story over 40 years.”

His story is also refreshing for offering an unflinching look at complex male and female characters who are equally explored onscreen. “I wanted to tell a story about a couple in which both characters are very strong and are protagonists,” he said. “That often doesn’t work. They were fatally mismatched and yet there is something that holds them. Sometimes obstacles can make your relationship stronger.”

Pawlikowski also discusses his influences, the film’s music, and its beautiful monochrome lighting.

Check out the conversation above.