Pawel Pawlikowski Q&A: ‘Ida’
"There's more in it than just something about Polish history, all sorts of things about faith, identity, love," says director Pawel Pawlikowski, explaining why his film "Ida," Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, is more personal than political. "I also wanted to make a film in Poland and set it in the early '60s, which is a time I find I'm very close to. I was a kid at the time, quite young, absorbing the world quite intensely."
The film tells the story of a novice nun (Agata Trzebuchowska), who discovers her Jewish heritage and learns what happened to her family during the Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II. But the Polish Anti-Defamation League has claimed the film is "anti-Polish" and may lead viewers to believe "the Holocaust was caused by the Poles."
But Pawlikowski shrugs off the criticisms, saying, "They're not talking about my film. They're using it to make political capital, and the right wing in Poland now is trying to animate itself, get worked up about stuff because election is approaching and they've been out of power for a while."
He adds of the film's political opponents, "To accuse a film of being unpatriotic helps them create this feeling that there is some kind of conspiracy against Poland … What's going on, some kind of state of siege? It has its own logic that's completely nothing to do with the film."
It's not lost on Pawlikowski how this controversy parallels the backlash against his Oscar rival "Leviathan." "The same thing happened to my Russian friend [Andrey Zvyagintsev]; in Russia, he got a lot of stigma," notes Pawlikowski, but "I don't think we should make too much of it, because in the end … we still made [our films] for state money … we still were nominated as our national entry officially by the ministries of culture, and we still got distributed in our countries, so in the end a little bit of noise is not a big deal."
"Ida" would be the first Polish film ever to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, and Pawlikowski thinks "it would be great for Polish cinema, because it's had its ups and downs, it's got great traditions, had a great moment in the '50s and '60s and '70s, and then with [Krzysztof Kieslowski] in the '80s. It hasn't had that for a while now, so it would be brilliant if 'Ida' suddenly put it back on the map."
"Ida" has already made a sizable impact with awards groups all around the world, winning top honors at the European Film Awards and Best Foreign Film at the recent BAFTAs, but "it's not necessarily about Oscars. You want to make films that are saying something … that are somehow personal and specific, and that's what one tries to keep doing."
He goes on to laud the work of his filmmaking peers: "I'm so happy when Nuri Ceylan, the Turkish guy, makes a new film, or when I see my Swedish friends from 'Force Majeure,' [Ruben Östlund]. I can see the poster for 'Mommy,' by that young chap Xavier Dolan; it's great that he's made this completely mad, totally original film. That's what makes me really happy and excited about cinema … It's good that people take risks and do their own thing. I like that."
Pawlikowski has received his fair share of recognition during his career – including a trifecta of prizes at BAFTA: Most Promising Newcomer ("Last Resort," 2000), Best British Film ("My Summer of Love," 2004), and now Best Foreign Film ("Ida") – but what has made the experience of "Ida" stand out to him is "that the film traveled to so many different places, to South Korea, to Morocco, Finland, Spain. That's something. It means that it kind of communicates in some very universal way."
But he doesn't expect this kind of widespread acclaim to happen often, maybe once a decade or so. "Every 10 years I have a good moment," he says. "I just realize that I have to live a long time, and every 10 years I make a film or two films and good t