Speaking at Cartagena Film Festival, the director says he’s planning a multi-decade love story set in Poland, plus other international projects.
After the success of his Polish-language debut Ida, director Pawel Pawlikowski is planning another Polish film, which he describes as “a love story across 30 years,” loosely based on his own parents’ relationship. He calls it something of an “Eastern European version of the Richard Burton-Elizabeth Taylor story.”
The director was born in Poland but studied in the UK, where he made documentaries for the BBC and then made his early films such as Last Resort and My Summer of Love. He lived in Paris while making The Woman In The Fifth, but returned to Poland — the country he left at age 14 — to make Ida.
“[With Woman in the Fifth] I was a Polish guy in Paris with an English actress, an American actor a French crew, making a thriller that is not a thriller. And I knew I wanted to keep things simple with my next film,” he said during a masterclass at the Cartagena Film Festival, where he was the subject of a career tribute.
“I felt the urge to go back to basics, go to my country where I’d never shot a film in my life. And it’s set in a period when I was a kid, a small kid. It was a reaction to my French experience. It was also about clarifying ‘who am I?’”
Ida, shot in black and white, is set in 1961 Poland as a young trainee nun (Agata Trzebuchowska) learns from her aunt that she is of Jewish descent.
Pawlikowski is currently living in Warsaw, “with one foot in England,” where he has production company Apocalypso with producer Tanya Seghatchian. One international project they have together is a story of the young JS Bach, as an angry young 20 year old who is a frustrated orphan who goes on a pilgrimage to meet a great organ builder. “He learns a lot about himself and about organs,” Pawlikowski said.
After his masterclass at the Cartagena Film Festival, Pawlikowski told Screen that he has several projects in development. “I usually work on three to four things at a time, waiting for one to take off.”
His Poland-set projects have a more “timeless” feel he said, because he hasn’t been living back in his homeland long enough to fully understand contemporary Poland.
He noted that Ida, a festival and critical hit after it premiered in Telluride and Toronto, had provoked a strong response in Poland. “Some people thought it was anti-Polish, some people said it was anti-Semitic. People who already have their own debating agendas in place used the film as a kind of football in an ongoing debate,” he said.
He takes a relaxed approach to letting a script evolve somewhat during production, he noted during the masterclass. “My version of writing doesn’t really happen just sitting at a desk,” Pawlikowski said. “It happens throughout the whole process. You have to have some explanation of the script to get financing, and get the process started. But my imagination is also stimulated in situ, when I am actually creating this world. It can come from actors, from locations, from photographs. The process never stops, I can write something new during a lunch break [during shooting]. Not major things, but textural things.”