“My films are always a reflection of where I am in my life” – says Polish film director Pawel Pawlikowski, for whom “being a filmmaker is a nightmare. It’s sort of blood, sweat and tears” and who actually never went to a film school to become a filmmaker. It just sort of happened. As he describes it himself – he doesn’t need to make a film every year to feel that he is alive or feel good about his life. In fact, he only turns to making movies if he feels that something has grown inside his mind that is worth spending time on. These are the reasons why all of his movies are so different and his filmography is relatively short, but nevertheless inspiring.
After studying literature and philosophy at London and Oxford, Pawlikowski started his film-related career by making documentaries for the BBC. The best know of these coincide FROM MOSCOW TO PIETUSKI, DOSTOEVSKY’S TRAVELS and SERBIAN EPICS.  Documentaries, despite not being a great works of art, for Pawlikowski they are by far the most interesting things that he has ever done, since “they are very lively and deal with period, character and situation in a very free way. However, Pawlikowski did not stick on only making documentaries and he eventually jumped into making full-length films. His first LAST RESORT, tells a story of a loose family of Russian refugees scratching out an existence in Margate after immigrating to Britain. MY SUMMER OF LOVE, his second feature explores the relationship and growing closeness between two young women from different classes and backgrounds. His early works established a unique brand of poetically infused naturalism as well as revealed his main ambition – “to make a film that’s not like any other – one that has its own kind of logic, and hooks viewers without making them think too much. It’s a film I’d love to see, one in which after 10 minutes the audience isn’t able to predict the whole thing.” Unfortunately, in 2006 director halted filmmaking due to personal reasons.
Pawlikowski returned in 2011 with a film set in Paris THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH, which carried on the same idea of making unpredictable cinema. However, the story is so complex that even director himself describes it as “formally, culturally and emotionally unclear”. “By the time I finished the film, I had changed it so much the producers didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t even know what game I was playing. And then I thought, ‘Why am I in Paris? I’m living among other people’s furniture. Everyone’s so well-dressed, so well-read, so well-spoken, but it’s not my city. What am I doing?”
After a slightly complicated return to the filmmaking, Pawlikowski made IDA, which became an iconic film and received fascinating worldwide appreciation. IDA, as Pawlikowski himself put it, “is a film about identity, family, faith, guilt, socialism and music.” His intention was to make “a film about history that wouldn’t feel like a historical film – a film that is moral, but has no lessons to offer.” He “wanted to tell a story in which everyone has their reasons; a story closer to poetry than plot.” The questions that are addressed in the movie are as follows: what does it mean to be Christian? Can you be a good Christian without being Polish Catholic? Is religion a tribal demarcation or is it something spiritual within you? What defines identity? The blood that you have? The faith you grew up with or your self-understanding? Can you escape all of these definitions and live a purely spiritual existence? According to Pawlikowski, Poland is full of these questions and thus he returned to his homeland to make this movie. The format that he uses to make films is quite uncommon. The justification for it comes from the director’s perception of today’s cinema. Being “not emotionally excited by the power of cinema’s tricks anymore,” he wanted to make a film without making a cinema, rather anti-cinema. His intention was to make a photographic movie, as a result each scene is handled from one angle with as natural as possible light, camera is static for most of the movie, it is shot in black and white, without editing and cuts after filming and any unnecessary noise. As such, he is not seeking to “draw attention to anything forceful, don’t manipulate the audience with the emotional trickery of a handheld camera or a close-up for tears.” The result is a film – masterpiece.
As an endnote we would like to emphasize that while creating his films Pawlikowski follows two ideas: firstly, that “less is more”, and secondly that every film he makes can be his last one. Both of these ideas can be very well seen in his works and might be the reason of their uniqueness. However, we definitely hope that IDA was not his last film and we will get to appreciate more of this Polish-director’s creations. Furthermore, we hope, that you are also inspired by his works and stories and will continue to search for your individual and distinctive path, while, of course, sharing your cinematic ideas with us and submitting you works to ÉCU!