CANNES: Oscar-winner Pawel Pawlikowski denies he is nostalgic for the Cold War, but its geopolitical tensions and lack of modern technological distractions make it the perfect era in which to stage a doomed love story, he said.
The director who won the 2015 foreign language Oscar for Ida, also set in the Communist era, is vying for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival with Cold War a romance that moves from the peasant farms of Poland to Paris jazz clubs and back from the 1940s to the 1960s.
Zula is a tough, beautiful woman who wins a place at a school for traditional performing arts set up to promote a wholesome nationalistic image of post-war Poland, where the handsome Wiktor is musical director.
Early in their clandestine affair, she admits to spying on him for the authorities, the first, and perhaps least, of many problems that the political climate throws at the relationship.
In his five-star review, The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw called Cold War a “mysterious, musically glorious and visually ravishing film” with “an exquisite chill”.
Asked why the cold war made a good backdrop for a romance drama, Pawlikowski said: “There were a lot of obstacles around at the time, and love is, to a large degree, a matter of overcoming obstacles.”
The movie is also inspired by personal experience.
Pawlikowski, 60, lived in exile from Poland from the age of 14 when his ballerina mother escaped with him to the West. The protagonists of Cold War are named after his late parents.
“There are a lot of things in common between this couple and my parents,” he said.
“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, came together again and so on.
“It’s not their portrait but there are quite similar mechanics to their relationship.”
Critics praised the film’s black and white cinematography, musical score and sense of humor, with IndieWire comparing Joanna Kulig’s performance as Zula to a young Jeanne Moreau: “an alcoholic hellcat who thrusts herself into the embraces of other men – quite literally, in a reckless spree around the dance-floor of a rock’n’roll club.
“It’s a terrific, high-showmanship sequence as if Pawlikowski had the urge to unleash his inner Scorsese.”
The Cannes Film Festival runs from May 8 to May 19.