January 2019

Dorota Lech is a Polish born film curator and film festival programmer. Ekran had the pleasure to speak with Dorota Lech back in 2017 to discuss her role as a Programming Associate at the Toronto International Film Festival and the TIFF Doc Conference Programmer. 

In that interview Lech spoke of Polish film with such heart and passion it was clear that beyond programming and selecting festival films, Lech has a an art when it comes to articulating words to describe her love for the films from her native land Poland.  It’s only fitting that Vanity Fair selected her to interview Joanna Kulig, the star of Paweł Pawlikowski’s 2019 Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film, Cold War (Zimna Wojna). 

After reading this article, I could not wipe the smile off my face. We are hoping you feel the same. Enjoy!

Cold War’s Joanna Kulig Is Ready for Her Spotlight

The actress steals the show in director Pawel Pawlikowski’s new black-and-white film, a love story set in postwar Poland.

In the moments following the Cannes premiere of Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War,the entire auditorium burst into applause and turned toward one person. Joanna Kulig, projected on the 19-by-8-meter screen, sat with her face buried in her hands, flanked by Pawlikowski and Kulig’s co-lead, Tomasz Kot, as the audience roared. Sitting several rows ahead of her, I looked back and thought, Finally, a real movie star from our little country.

Three years since his drama Ida became the first Polish movie to win the Oscar for best foreign-language film, Pawlikowski has returned with Amazon Studios’s Cold War, the monochrome story of forlorn love in a divided postwar Poland. As a country girl turned talented ingénue, who must decide whether to keep performing with her folk ensemble when their shows turn into Stalinist propaganda, Kulig plays the character across 15 years and enormous transformations, displaying remarkable range and talent. At the film’s swanky Cannes after-party, Kulig hugged Pawlikowski and then took the stage that had been set up near the swimming pool outside an impressive French villa. She sang the heart-wrenching ballad performed by her character in the film, and once again all eyes were on her. Pawlikowski, whose international breakthrough came in 2004 with My Summer of Love, is widely heralded as the most exciting Polish filmmaker currently working. It’s a title that comes with a long legacy. The country has produced Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Kieślowski, and Roman Polanski, among others, but has struggled for global recognition in recent years. Pawlikowski and his films have not been entirely welcomed at home, though. Since 2015, Poland has been dominated by Law and Justice, its ruling nativist and right-wing party, which pushes an authoritarian agenda and uses the state public broadcaster, TVP, as an unofficial propaganda machine. After Ida depicted Christian Poles as sharing responsibility for the Holocaust, the station infamously interfered with the broadcast of the film, introducing it with a 12-minute editorial program that claimed it was inaccurate and adding title cards that disputed its story, a move protested by the Polish Directors’ Guild and the European Film Academy. Jarosław Kaczyński, head of the Law and Justice party, and former prime minister Beata Szydlo have both publicly criticized the film as well.

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Joanna Kulig photographed in New York City. Photograph by Ruven Afanador

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Photograph by Ruven Afanador

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Dorota Lech

At a time when many Poles living at home and abroad, myself included, feel despair at the country’s tilt toward authoritarianism, Pawlikowski’s success has been a beacon of hope, an opportunity to tell Polish stories of love and possibility, even in the most impossible of circumstances. And now along with him comes Kulig, Poland’s most exciting star in decades, offering another chance for our small and challenged nation to show its best self.

Kulig, 36, has spent a busy five months promoting Cold War since Cannes, and nearly as much time preparing for the arrival of her first child, with her director husband, Maciej Bochniak. On a brisk October afternoon in New York City, she had just returned from a five-mile walk around Central Park. Though her English is excellent, she was relieved to sit down for a conversation in her native Polish. “Jesus! Wonderful! This is fantastic—we can talk in our language!” she squeals after I introduce myself.

Like her character Zula, Kulig comes from a small Polish town, Muszynka, a place of approximately 400 people nestled in the mountains, where she was one of five siblings and countless cousins. “I like being in groups rather than alone—I’m very open to people,” she says. “Being from the countryside gave me a spine, and it’s why I’m so accepting—I don’t judge people for how they look or how they talk . . . I just accept everyone.” A graduate of the National Academy of Theatre Arts in Krakow, Kulig got her start in Polish television—including a singing-competition series when she was 15—before making her film debut in 2007’s Wednesday, Thursday Morning.

Cold War is Kulig’s third time working with Pawlikowski. They first met in a restaurant in Warsaw in 2010, when she was trying for the lead in Ida, a role she readily admits she wasn’t suited for. “She sang me a mountain song over dessert—something from her part of the world,” says Pawlikowski, chuckling. The meeting led to a small role in The Woman in the Fifth, in which Kulig plays a Polish barmaid who tries to seduce the film’s main character (Ethan Hawke), and another role as a nightclub singer in Ida.

But Pawlikowski had plans for “Joasia,” the diminutive form of her name that he uses. “She has an aura and light—not starry, not actress-y, but genuine and charming,” he says. He wrote Cold War with her in mind, and Kulig and Kot both worked with him to fine-tune the script. Born in 1982, Kulig doesn’t remember Communism well. “But I think about my grandmother or mother and how hard it was for them,” she says with a clear tone of lament. “Poland is a country of strong women.” That includes Zula, who comes from the wrong side of the tracks and fights to improve her circumstances, even at the sacrifice of her own desires. Asked if Zula and Wiktor’s love story could happen today, Kulig says, “They loved each other deeply but just couldn’t catch each other at the same moment. That’s real in any period—something could be right, but the time is wrong and people can just miss each other.”

For Kulig, the timing has proved exquisitely right. With a baby on the way and other projects now or soon to be in release—including Wojciech Smarzowski’s Clergy,which broke opening-weekend box-office records in Poland—she is open to whatever else comes next. “I’m living in the now and so happy with the success of this film, but I don’t think about the future too much. . . . You can’t really plan with acting!” When I inquire if she holds Hollywood ambitions, Kulig plays it cool. “I’m still getting to know America and it would be great if I could do more here, and I’m open because I like new things.”

In reviews of Cold War, Kulig has been compared to everyone from the French star Jeanne Moreau to American sweetheart Jennifer Lawrence. Though she’s still relatively unknown internationally, comparing her to anyone else already feels like a disservice. “She’s unique. She’s original,” as Pawlikowski puts it. “I don’t think there’s anyone like her.” And now we can see her full potential.

Source: Vanity Fair

Dorota Lech can be followed on Twitter @dorotamischka

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