Posted: 06/04/05

Seasons In The Sun:
A Conversation with Pawel Pawlikowski and Emily Blunt

by Matthew Vasilauskas

Pawel Pawilkowski, Emily Blunt/My Summer of Love Interview

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Part I

One thing was for certain, I desperately needed a cab. And not just any cab mind you, but one with a particular excellence about it. Now of course I realize the difficulty in finding a cab of this nature. Let's face it, very rarely does a cab last long as a spring chicken. Traffic jams, neurotic pedestrians and the inevitable rapid dog all quickly take their toll on these beloved vehicles. But it was May and raining, and for once, I was absolutely tired of settling for those overdue junkyard numbers. My sights were high this time, and in them, stood a chariot. Drawn by six trusty white steeds and encrusted with a bronze glorious enough for a Roman emperor, this would be the chariot to destroy all other chariots. One that would spit, slice and decapitate any device trying to move on the same plane as it. This of course was going to be difficult. Surprisingly though, it wasn't long before my glorious chariot arrived. And the pilot of this dashingly handsome creation was none other than a man by the name of Milos.

It was quickly apparent that Milos was a Casanova. Perhaps an unconventional Casanova at best, but still a Casanova. His dyed blonde hair was completely slicked back by a heavy gel. The smell of the gel was not all that bad, though the particular style it had worked itself into was rather unfavorable. Even more striking though was the man's sunglasses. Completely black, except for a small tiger emblem that existed on each side of the frames. There was a ferocity to dear old Milos. Besides the tigers of course, there was his body movement. Hands tightly gripped on the steering wheel, and body poised for the kill, Milos was different from a lot of cab drivers. He was healthy, excited and ready for the slightest opportunity to exert his force upon. So one can imagine the intimidation I felt stepping into this  strongly controlled vehicle.

MILOS: Where I take you?

MATTHEW: Yeah, I need to get to the Four Seasons Hotel. It's at, um, 120 East Delaware.

MILOS: I know that. Sure, no problem. I take you there.

Milos pressed firmly down on the gas and we were off. Slaloming through the endless sea of buses, bugs and baby carriages. I took this opportunity to slouch in the backseat and rest my eyes a bit. It had been a terribly long day, and from the way things were looking, the hope of nearing an end was nowhere in sight.

As I lay calmly in the backseat, a cell phone rang. It was Milos', and he quickly answered it.

MILOS: Hallo? Yes, yes, I know that place. 7PM no good though. What the hell you mean I can't? I tell you, 7PM won't make. Well, well, just listen okay. Let me speak! I cannot make okay. You make 9PM, or not at all. No, I tell you, 7PM I can't! Hallo? Hallo? Hallo!

My attempt at shuteye was obviously failing,  But it seems there were bigger problems emerging on the horizon.

Milos had slammed his cell phone on the dash, and was mumbling to himself in tongues I dare not understand. This was a tremendously awkward situation, that for the most part, I had never experienced in a cab before. It wasn't long though, before Milos began laying his frustrations before the lone passenger in the backseat.

MILOS: I tell you, women. You know right?

MATTHEW:  Sorry, I'm not exactly sure what you're talking about.

MILOS: Women! They call to yell. You know how it is right? They call you, scream you and then go. What the hell is this?

MATTHEW: I'm not exactly sure man. A mystery I guess.

MILOS: You can be with her 15 years. 15 years I tell you! And you still get the screaming. That's why I drive around. Can't stay in that house. Have to pay me if you want me to stay.

MATTHEW: Yeah, I know a lot of 'em like that.

MILOS: Just need a break. My ears bleed.

MATTHEW: Really, is that so?

MILOS: I'm not kidding. The other night I found blood. Two drops, but still blood. Ready to explode I tell you. Probably if I hear one more scream.

MATTHEW: Hey, this is it.

Milos quickly swerved past an SUV and docked the car right in front of the Four Seasons.  The lobby was buzzing, and it looked as if we better say our goodbyes before the bellhops decided to take matters into their own hands.

MATTHEW: Here's for the ride, and a little something for you.

MILOS: Thank you so much. I hope everything you enjoyed.

MATTHEW: I definitely had a good time. Hope everything turns out okay with your woman.

MILOS: My friend, there will always be screaming. I guess I just buy some earplugs huh.

MATTHEW: Sounds good to me.

I slammed the door shut and tapped on the roof. Milos gave me a thumbs up, and dove into the ever-expanding sea of automobiles. In a strange way I really liked Milos. Of course everyone says that, just for the sheer strangeness of a situation. But in all sincerity, I really enjoyed Milos. I know the encounter was brief, but sometimes that's all it takes. He had woken me up a bit, and prepared me for the business at hand. So as Milos' cab disappeared into the distance, I myself disappeared into the hotel. Anxious and excited about what was going to come next.

Part II

Tutankhamen was indeed a lucky individual. Despite succumbing to death at an early age, this boy prince surely enjoyed the splendors of the ancient world. The enormous pyramids, the hypnotic desert expanse and jewels that made the lips water, all contributed to the young pharaoh's rather privileged state of being. And although these creations surely crafted intrigue and pleasure, they in some ways fall short to the sheer greatness of the Four Seasons Hotel.

Perhaps this structure does not possess the gold pillars of the ancient world, but it surely is a playground for the modern day pharaoh. It's furniture and hallways ornately decorated, create a rather extreme elegance about the place. Not an unwelcoming elegance mind you, but more of a comforting one. With lounge areas dimly lit, accompanied by a Dvorak score, it is truly a welcoming site to the senses.

I took one of the many elevators and made my way up to the seventh floor, where I would rendezvous with my party. It wasn't long of course before I found the other members of the press, closely huddled together in a far away corner of the main lobby area. The one thing you could count on with press people, was their fear of open spaces, and most certainly sunlight. The frequent excursions to movie houses and theaters, have turned these fast-talking creatures into rather nocturnal beings. Emerging only to feast on the coveted words of any helpless entertainer or media personality.

This idle waiting though, did not last long, and soon the coordinator of the event, Lara, came to get us.

LARA: Alright, they're ready for you guys.

No time for hesitation, this was the moment of truth. Like hounds after a bugle call, we were ready for the hunt. The real question though was, were they ready for the hunters?

Part III

Our journey through the maze of neatly arranged passageways soon led us to a small conference room, located high above the city floor. A long, wooden table adorned with ledgers and bottles of Fiji water would be our home for the next half hour or so. Barely had I taken a drink from one of the bottles of water, than the director and actress were promptly brought in.

The first person I noticed was Pawel Pawlikowski.  Though this was my first encounter with the man, he immediately struck me as a kind soul. From the get go there was a smile on his face, and he most certainly did not hesitate to shake everyone's hand in the room. I knew Pawlikowski had to be tired though. Ever since he arrived in town a couple of days ago, he had been held captive by the questions of numerous press affiliates.  This was the last leg of his tour, and he would be leaving in afternoon to fly back to London. His attitude though seemed upbeat, and as he made his way around the room, I had a feeling this session would be rather enjoyable.

No sooner had Pawlikowski made his way around to every press member, than all the action in the room suddenly stopped. It is a tremendously rare occurrence for time and space to suddenly cease in their movements. It has only happened a couple of times in history. Once in Brazil and once in Wisconsin. But on this rain soaked day high above the city, the regular movement of logic seemed to come to stand still. For this of course was the main entrance of the desperately awaited second interviewee.  The name in question is none other than Emily Blunt.

In a dressy, casual getup, Blunt entered the conference room with extreme grace and elegance. A smile plastered firmly on her face, this up and coming starlet made her way around the room, graciously introducing herself to each and every anxious body. The sophistication and beauty she had displayed on screen, had absolutely lost none of its intensity. This truly was a glorious site to see, and made for an even more exciting session.

As the introductions came to a close, the members of the press along with the director and actress took their designated seats. With the excitement reaching a climax, the line of questioning began its inevitable rampage.

INTERVIEWER: With the success of your previous film "Last Resort," what got you interested in the story of "My Summer of Love?"

PAWLIKOWSKI: Well you know,  I've always been interested in these characters trapped in a particular environment. Characters with an interesting dynamic, which splits between their intellect and emotions. I was just looking for good characters to make about in English. For a while I was preparing a film about Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes which didn't come off, well they made it, but I dropped off the boat quite soon because I loved the characters, but I didn't think we could make the film in the sort of way I like making films. And then, while that project was sort of getting off the rails,  I picked up this book "My Summer of Love," and discovered the two characters in it. You know, the two girls. Especially Mona. Who tells this story in her own voice, and I thought, wow that's a great character and I can create a world around it. And it could be in English about England, but with stuff that interested me. So I said this is a great character, great potential story, a world I can relate to, and I can make a film that will transcend the story. And you know that's the thin red line, where you shape and mold them and come up with a totally unpredictable and engaging account. So, that's sort of the pre history of the project.

INTERVIEWER: Now, you don't really start the project with a finished script, but rather a shooting document. How does that affect your approach, and perhaps gaining financial support as well?

PAWLIKOWSKI:  Well, it's difficult. It' s more difficult than anything, because it builds your reputation and your possibilities as you go along. But for me, the script is just a jump off. And I love well-written scripts, but you know, you look at the hidden life in scripts. You don't just look at the surface of things. I always look at the stuff that shows potential for making the movie. But I think a lot of filmmakers I respond to, work in a similar way. I mean Wong Kar Wai, Terrence Malick. Do they have scripts? I don't know. Very often though, it's good to have a script. Because it's good discipline, and it takes you into areas which are useful to explore and which enrich the whole process. The main thing is you create these conditions where you put all the elements together, and sculpt with them. And all sorts of literary stuff comes to the surface as well.

INTERVIEWER:  Well Emily, in terms of being an actor, how does that whole process work for you?

BLUNT:  Well, it's very different for me to work in that way, cause I'm used to working with a fixed script where you know the exact time, location and scene that will be taking place. But I think for me to work in this very organic way, really does feel like a collaborative effort. I mean you feel very open, and you bring so much of yourself to the table. It's sort of a revelation, because you find things that ring true. Every scene, there was a freedom to it. We could try new things, and it was never frowned upon when we tried something new. If something wasn' t working, it was about persevering until we found something that was golden.

INTERVIEWER: What was your motivation for creating the Phil character and adding the whole religious aspect of the piece?

PAWLIKOWSKI:  I just needed another character who had quite an energy. Who creates a passion, which is a rare thing to generate. Also, to create a counterpoint between the dynamic of the two girls. I wanted to create a couple of siblings who were similar in many ways, and wanted to achieve something that would change their lives. It was a kind of a love story between the brother and sister. An unhappy love story. I wanted three rich characters. Complex characters, with someplace to go.

INTERVIEWER: Can you talk a little bit about the cinematography of the piece, and how you were able to capture such rich and inviting colors?

PAWLIKOWSKI: Well, we're shooting in a very sunny area, but also the costumes were a major factor. We went for reds and pinks that would contrast with the green, and brought the green down to look more saturated. We tried to shoot everything in an afternoon light, to try and sculpt the objects a little bit more. Trying to bring out the familiar, but at the same time make it somewhat foreign.

INTERVIEWER: There's quite a deviousness about the Tamsin character, and seems as if Emily has pulled this off perfectly. How did you prepare for such a role, and what did you do to achieve this sort of unfavorable nature?

BLUNT:  Well, I'm not a devious person, I mean I never have been. I guess you just take things from life experiences. People you've met,  people you went to school with, people you wanted to be friends with. And, I know a lot of people like Tamsin. I think we've all met Tamsin in our life, or been Tamsin at one point. So that's what kind of intrigued me and enticed me about this particular character.

INTERVIEWER: If I remember correctly, there were a lot of subtle metaphors in the film. One in particular that comes to mind is that of the swan. Is this an element which existed in the book?

PAWLIKOWSKI: That wasn't in the book, and really, most things weren't in the book. Apart from the relationship between the two girls. Now with the swan, when I was driving around I came across a pub called the swan. You know, where we shot all the interiors. And then when we met, and I discovered Emily could play the cello, which wasn't in the script, or book or anywhere. And I asked her if she could play the swan, and sort of put the two things together. But when you reduce your fields of operation and strip everything down, a lot of good ideas emerge just from looking at the possibilities. And some of them suddenly acquire a certain metaphorical resonance. In many ways film becomes literature, but not a translation of literature.

INTERVIEWER: It also seems like the majority of the film is left open. From the attitudes of the characters to even the ending itself. As a filmmaker, how do you decide what to reveal to the audience, and what not to?

PAWLIKOWSKI: It's sort of a balancing act between what you reveal and what you don't reveal. You know, how much help to give to the audience. I mean I'm just learning as I go along, but my feeling is that if you do create enough scenes that define the characters, without the kind of boneless literature, and if you create enough characters who are believable and have a life rather than just functional in forming the plot, then people will get drawn in and forget they're watching a movie. And just follow the story anyway. I love films where I'm not just being drug around by excess exposition. And I love such films, and I know there must be more people out there like me.

As Pawlikowski finished his sentence, Lara entered the room, and announced that the session was over. The press, along with the director and actress shook hands, and parted ways from the conference room.

I was outside now, and slowly drinking the bottle of Fiji water I had swiped from the interview. A long session of interviewing creates much tension on the lips, and there is nothing more satisfying than the sweet taste of stolen water.

By all measures, this little adventure seemed to be a success. The interviewees were kind, gracious and very insightful in the workings of the film process. One can gain much knowledge from such individuals, and it is comforting that there are actually people out there who possesses such a favorable nature.

No sooner had I thrown my hand in the air, than a cab rushed to the scene, I stepped in hoping for me dear friend Milos to welcome me. No dice though. This scruffy man was Maurice.

MAURICE: Where to mister?

MATTHEW: Belmont and Broadway.

MAURICE: Sure, I know the place. I take you there.

And with that familiar phrase, I leaned back and watched the hotel shrink slowly into the distance.

Matthew V. is a screenwriter and film critic living in the wilds of Chicago.

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