Cannes: Pawel Pawlikowski on the Romantic Nostalgia of 'Cold War'

Courtesy of Protagonist Pictures
'Cold War'

“It's difficult to tell a love story in the current day because everyone is so distracted,” says the Oscar-winning director of 'Ida' about his Soviet-era love story.

Pawel Pawlikowski is not nostalgic for the past. Not really.

“I don't think nostalgia is is the driving force behind my films, it's not the reason I make them,” the Polish director told the group of assembled journalists at a press conference in Cannes on Friday for Cold War, Pawlikowski's follow-up to his foreign-language Oscar-winning Ida.

The bittersweet, and yes, very nostalgic, love story set in Soviet-era Poland, Cold War drew rave reviews from Cannes critics and is already being touted as a front-runner for the Palme d'Or.

Pawlikowski admitted Cold War was a kind of companion piece to Ida, and like the earlier film, did evoke a longing for the post-war period in Poland. Life under communism, the director argued, makes a great setting for thwarted love. 

“There are a lot of obstructions there, and love is to a huge degree about overcoming obstructions,” he said. Pawlikowski added that he would find it difficult to tell a modern-day love story because “everyone today is so distracted” making it harder to imagine “the idea that you see somebody and the rest of the world falls away.”

And while he balks slightly at the term, the director admitted to a sense of nostalgia for the time, when he was a child in Poland. This is perhaps most clearly seen in the film's soundtrack, a cornucopia of period sound, from Polish folk tunes and Soviet-era hymns to French-inflected jazz and early American rock and roll.

“I have a certain kind of nostalgia — not nostalgia for Stalinism, don't get me wrong — but for a kind of clarity. Of getting away from all this noise,” he said. “I think you spend the first half of your life trying to escape your homeland and the second half trying to get back to it. At least it has been that way for me.”

The Cannes Film Festival runs through May 19.