Pawel Pawlikowski has a rather unusual background for a British filmmaker. He was born in Poland, where he lived until he was sixteen, when he emigrated to England. And his education did not center on cinema. “I studied literature, philology and philosophy, in London and then at Oxford,” he explained during a recent Dallas interview. “Then I joined the filmmakers’ workshop, where I learned the camera and film and abandoned my academic career.”

Pawlikowski continued, “First I was interested in poetic short films, kind of formal, experimental films. Then I started making documentaries. They gave me a job making documentaries in the old BBC, where there were still pockets of independent filmmaking. The BBC was a lot like a film school in England, you know. A lot of filmmakers actually went through the BBC as a training ground. That was a time when there were still pockets of autonomy inside the BBC–you could fool around a bit, and ratings were not such an issue, and it had not yet become the sort of corporation that it is today. I caught the end of that era and had five or six really good years; every film that I made was slightly weird and different. And they won awards at festivals, and that gave me the freedom to fool around for awhile. And roughly in the mid-nineties that era finished; the era of total accounting and pyramidal power set in. I could still make documentaries, but from then on British television joined the rest of the world, and it became much less fun. Then I progressed to making a feature film, a kind of drama for a documentary budget. It didn’t cost much money, but we used non-professional actors and real locations to tell a fictional story. And that was a relative success, so I got money on the basis of that to make another fictional film, again quite cheap.” The film was “Last Resort,” a tale of impoverished immigrants which was included in a package of independent movies that were distributed by the now-defunct Shooting Gallery company in the U.S. “And that was a success,” Pawlikowski said. “It won a lot of awards, and that got me to this place, where I made [this film] for a bit more money.”

The writer-director’s new film is “My Summer of Love,” a tale of a steamy relationship that develops between two dissimilar young women–the lower-class Mona (Nathalie Press), who lives over the shuttered family pub with her ex-con brother, a fanatical born-again Christian (Paddy Considine), and wealthy, hedonistic Tamsin (Emily Blunt)–during a hot British summer. The script is based on a novel by Helen Cross, but it’s hardly a straight adaptation of the book. “I took the two characters who were interesting to me, who had energy and were kind of paradoxical creatures, from the book,” Pawlikowski explained, “and I introduced a third character who’s not in the book”–the brother who’s transforming the pub into a Christian meeting-house and building a huge cross to put on a peak overlooking the village. That figure arose, he said, from his own curiosity: “They [the evangelicals] still have a yearning for some kind of transcendence–I found it interesting territory.” But it also came from the director’s own past. He recalled that when he was making a documentary in Lancashire some time ago, “there was actually this preacher who wanted to plant this cross on top of a hill where, three hundred years earlier, witches had been hanged, and claimed that witches were attracted to that spot. He tried to energize his brethren by carrying the cross to the top of the hill. The county planning commission canceled it–they said the cross would constitute a new development. But I kept that idea for fifteen years. Nothing’s ever wasted. You gather all your observations and motifs, whatever, and at some point they come in handy.”

As to the actual writing, Pawlikowski confessed that his scripts were never fully completed pieces. “The key scenes–the kind of structural scenes–were written out quite precisely–the scenes that you need just to tell the story, the moments that define the characters, the relationships,” he said. But the other portions of the script might be far less complete. “I write full scripts,” he explained, “and I know that two-thirds of the scenes are kind of mediocre–not worse than any other script, but [I aim at] making it richer and more textured. So very often I write them out just to fool the financiers, or if the financiers know me, I just sketch them in–‘This is going to happen more or less like this, maybe these three lines will come up at some point in the scene.’ Among financiers there’s a kind of fetish about the script. For me, the writing is not so much writing as rewriting. You write something, and then you keep rewriting until you get to something interesting. And the big thing is to know when you’ve got there.”

Asked whether this process arose from his work in documentary, Pawlikowski said, “These categories are not quite right when applied to filmmaking. I definitely have a feeling of scenes and a succession of scenes, [but] I don’t like them to feel manipulated or too constructed or too ‘plotty.’ I like the feeling that things are just kind of emerging in front of our eyes, and the story builds slowly without [your] noticing the mechanics, necessarily. You have to apply mechanics, but to sort of hide that and make everything as rich-textured and ambiguous as one can, and to give everything some sort of life–which is a much more poetic use of the medium, if you treat it like that. In America, it’s a much more didactic, political form–it’s less cinematic. But the sort of movies I like are very visual distillations of reality, rather than commentary on what these pictures mean. So I try to continue that into fiction. Of course, fiction has other rules. You have to do a little plotting. But I want the plotting to be subservient to characters, to characters and the theme. I don’t want the plot to become an end in itself.” That’s why he works “to get these kind of moments that have a rhythm and a kind of poetry about them, but also to get the shot–to combine the emotional truth with a certain stylization. The [goal] is to bring all these things into line–acting and photography–so we all kind of write together. I don’t subscribe to the Dogma thing, where the camera just swings and catches whatever it catches.”

He added: “Of course, you need to have a set-up that favors this style of working–more budget, friendly producers, and above all actors who are not thrown by it, who can bring their own kind of energy, texture, ideas, who are generous and are not hiding behind a profession, who really kind of give themselves to the process.” In “My Summer of Love,” of course, the choice of actresses to play Mona and Tamsin was central. “I had a hard time in both cases,” Pawlikowski said. “It was just that I found Natalie first, and then once I found her, I knew I had a potential film there. She could carry the character. And then we started looking for the other character, and it took ages as well. It wasn’t more difficult, but it’s very difficult to find someone who’s got a little something extra, something going on behind their eyes.”

The actress he finally discovered was Emily Blunt, who won the Evening Standard British Film Award for Most Promising Newcomer jointly with Press, and who accompanied Pawlikowski on his visit to Dallas. “It’s a fun time when you’re playing someone pretentious, but also you have to really like her, you really have to be enticed by her,” Blunt said of her character. “I think that was hard. And to have enough mystery there but not to give everything away. It was such a fine line, so I guess that’s what I found quite hard. And I was playing someone very different from me, as well.” One of the aspects of Tasmin that came from Blunt herself was the girl’s cello playing. “I played a bit,” she said. “I used to be quite good, but it was quite a bit of pride-bashing when I picked it up again. I used to play a lot, but I stopped about seven years ago, and you lose it if you don’t practice every day. But Pawel was just open to anything we had to offer. He assured me it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t note-perfect. I mean, I can hear it isn’t note-perfect. Maybe it’s endearing…she can be quite cavalier.” And for Blunt that represented both the challenge and the opportunity offered by working on the film in Pawlikowski’s way. “We felt very secure,” she said. “We had a kind of security net around us, but within that net you’re allowed to explore. We were able to work in a very organic way, a very collaborative way. It intimidated me a bit at first, but then you have to embrace it because you know it’s starting to work, and you’re starting to find golden moments sometimes. It was a revelation to work like that.”