Łukasz Kośmicki • Director of The Coldest Game
“I believe there are only two categories of films: good ones and bad ones”
by Ola Salwa
- Cineuropa talked to Łukasz Kośmicki about his debut feature, The Coldest Game, which had its international premiere in competition at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival
It took over six years to develop The Coldest Game [+see also:
interview: Łukasz Kośmicki
film profile], shot in Poland but with dialogue in English, and with an international cast including the likes of Bill Pullman, Lotte Verbeek and Aleksey Serebryakov. The Coldest Game is a spy-thriller set in 1960s Warsaw, where two opposing empires clash: the USA and Russia. The film is the directorial debut by renowned cinematographer Łukasz Kośmicki, who co-wrote the script for Dark House with Wojciech Smarzowski. We spoke to Kośmicki about the movie, which had its international premiere in competition at Tallinn Black Nights.
Cineuropa: The Palace of Culture and Science is one of Warsaw’s landmarks and a “gift from Stalin to the brotherly Polish nation” – it’s also an important protagonist in your film. How do you feel about this building, and what kind of “character” was it for you?
Łukasz Kośmicki: I saw the palace for the first time when I was eight years old, and it still impresses me to this day – even though I’ve been living in Warsaw for almost 30 years and I pass by it every day. Like any totalitarian work of architecture, it looks great in front of the camera. For The Coldest Game, we chose those parts of the palace that are closest to Nazi architect and politician Albert Speer’s projects – monumental, stony and hostile. It was a very atmospheric, but also demonic, shooting location.
The main plot point is a chess game between Russian and American players, during the biggest crisis of the Cold War. What did you find most attractive about this idea?
It was a combination of many elements: the incredible style of the 1960s, the cars and the costumes, the darker side of the Iron Curtain, spies, an intellectual game of chess and a Cold War scare that we still feel to this day. On top of all of this, the project had a great protagonist: an American chess player, a flawed genius, who is thrown into a hostile environment. He is in his sixties, so it meant that we would be able to cast a really great actor from the USA. Since there are so few lead roles for men of that age, we thought it would be easier to “catch” someone good.
Speaking of which, a few days into the shoot, you had to change your main actor…
After five days of shooting, William Hurt, who was playing Joshua Mansky, had an unfortunate accident during one of his days off. He had to withdraw from the movie. We were able to send a script to Bill Pullman, who read it and immediately agreed to fly out to freezing Poland. It’s ironic how life actually caught up with art: in the film, one chess master replaces another and comes to Poland to play the game. In real life, one acting genius took someone else’s place, too.
Bill created a different character, which changed the entire movie. It was incredible to watch him creating this role from scratch and to see how he resonated with the other actors and changed their characters, too. Bill brought a new perspective to the project, which I thought I knew inside out.
In The Coldest Game, which is also about a spy game, information is a key asset. This is also the case for you, because you hide some facts from the audience, only to reveal them at a convenient moment. How did you work on this element in the script, co-written with Marcel Sawicki, to keep the audience intrigued and to stop them feeling lost or confused?
In this genre, it’s crucial to have what I call a game with the audience, and this requires effort not only during the writing of the script, but also on set and in the editing room. We did some test screenings in Poland and the USA to see if the film would be clear for the audience. The conclusions were surprising, but we decided to go with them. For example, viewers in the digital world don’t know what microfilm is, and in our film, it plays an important role – it carries top-secret data. Almost no one understood the scene with a microfilm hidden in a champagne cork – some wondered whether there was a flash drive hidden there, even though the film is set in 1962. We decided to add some simple shots that resolved this problem. The movie, even though it was still complicated, thus became simpler to follow.
The film is set in Poland but was shot in English with an international cast. Does this movie have a "nationality"?
I think that the audience’s awareness has evolved and they aren’t reluctant to watch foreign films, even if they’re spoken in exotic languages. For me, it was important that the characters would speak in their native tongues because it increased the realism of the film, even though The Coldest Game is 100% fiction. As for the concept of nationality, I believe there are only two categories of films: good ones and bad ones.
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