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A Kiss Deferred | With Joanna Kulig22:59
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Brian Rea for The New York Times
Brian Rea for The New York Times

During the Bosnian War in the early 1990s, an estimated 100,000 people died and millions were displaced. The conflict produced the worst atrocities in Europe since World War Two. But Nikolina Kulidzan was 12 years old, and had no idea any of that was on the horizon. Her essay is called "A Kiss Deferred by Civil War," and it is read by Joanna Kulig, who stars in the new movie "Cold War."

Where Are They Now?

Nikolina Kulidzan says that when her family left Mostar, they did so abruptly, with just two suitcases. After arriving in Belgrade, she started writing to Marco.

"Leaving my hometown — that was by the far the biggest trauma possibly of my life to date, not just of my life up to the age of 12. It was extremely disruptive, it was tragic, it was extremely upsetting," Nikolina says. "I was convinced that I would never again feel like I belonged anywhere, and in some ways I was actually right. I have never quite belonged anywhere in the same way that I had before then. I needed an outlet for those feelings that I had, and writing to Marco was an outlet for that."

And she told us more about what it felt like to get his note so many years later.

"The message arrived in my email inbox saying, you have a message from Marco Lasic through Facebook. And just to see Marco Lasic in my inbox was so exciting, and it was a little bit like having your dream come true," she says. "And then when I read the message itself I just thought it was funny, it was brilliant."

"On the surface it sounds so serious. 'I’ve been your boyfriend since 5th grade, get back to me so we can figure out what to do about it.' But it didn’t for a second occur to me that he was seriously asking me to get back to him so we could figure out how to resume this relationship that had been interrupted."

"In a way it’s typical Bosnian humor, and that’s what I really loved about it — that he knew that I would know that it was humor. So there were multiple layers of trust involved in this message," she says.

But some readers interpreted that note, and Nikolina and Marko’s relationship, differently. She was surprised by the number of people who wrote to her to ask what happened after the end of the Modern Love story.

"And it never occurred to me that this story could have any happier ending than it had," she says. "We were sitting on this beautiful terrace, overlooking this bridge that had been destroyed in the war and then put together. And to me that was sort of like my heart, like my life. It had been destroyed and it was put together."

"When we met and we were talking and we kissed, what I had lost in my life — some of it at least had been found and put back in place," she continues. "I don’t think we were trying to rekindle a romance, I think we were trying to honor our past together, and really clinging to something beautiful from it."

Nikolina and Marko are married now — just not to each other.  "Marco had a baby boy last year — I see pictures on Facebook, he’s cute — but no. We did not stay together."

Nikolina says that by the time they reunited in Mostar, she and Marko were living very different lives. His was in Croatia, and hers in the United States. She says she never thought about changing the course of her life to be with him. To her, their story was about something different.

"We come from a country where ... every generation remembers a war. My dad, who [is] 79, remembers three wars. So what people remember is crimes and atrocities and slights and insults, and then what they leave their children as an inheritance is this desire for revenge," she says.

"For the two of us to actually remember our friendship, our loyalty to each other — to me, that was more than an act of romance. It was almost like a small political act. Like an act of courage that says, 'No, I will not put you in a box with the rest of your tribe that has committed these crimes. You are this individual that I have shared something with.' I do see that as a small act of redemption."

Voices in this Episode

Courtesy Joanna Kulig
Courtesy Joanna Kulig

Joanna Kulig is a multi-faceted performer who can currently be seen starring opposite Tomasz Kot in Pawel Pawlikowski's sweeping drama for Amazon, Cold War. Set against the Cold War in the 1950s, it explores the passionate yet tumultuous relationship of two lovers (Kulig and Kot) whose contrasting temperaments and backgrounds challenge their love for each other. The film, featuring Kulig's own vocal performance, premiered at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, where it received rave reviews and earned the prize for Best Director. Kulig also received a European Film Award for her performance. The movie cinched the honor of being Poland's official selection for this year's Academy Awards and was released by Amazon on December 21, 2018.

The film marks Kulig's third collaboration with director Pawel Pawlikowski, in a role written specifically for her. In the past, she appeared in his Academy Award winning film Ida, as well as The Woman in the Fifth opposite Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Born and raised in Poland, Kulig's work is most well known in Europe. Her previous film credits include Wojciech Smarzowski's Kler, Anna Justice's Remembrance, Natalia Koryncka-Gruz's Warsaw by Night, Maciej Bochniak's Disco Polo, Anne Fontaine's The Innocents, Eun-jin Pang's Way Back Home, and Tommy Wirkola's Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Her television credits include O Mnie Sie Nie Martw, in which she has appeared in over 100 episodes, Szpilki Na Giewoncie, and Zbrodnia.

At the age of 16, Kulig won a prize on the popular Polish singing competition show, Szansa Na Sukces. This jumpstarted her career and led to her acceptance into The Fryderyk Chopin State Primary Music School, the Mieczyslaw Karlowicz State Secondary Music School in Krakow, and finally the Ludwik Solski State Drama School, where she specialized in drama performance and popular music vocals.

Kulig currently resides in Poland.

Courtesy Nikolina Kulidzan
Courtesy Nikolina Kulidzan

Nikolina Kulidzan currently lives and writes in Arlington, VA. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Sun Magazine, Best New Writing and other publications, and has twice been nominated for a Pushcart award. She is working on a novel examining lives of two women – one at the threshold of adulthood, another of middle age – whose lives intersect while they pursue opposite goals.

Caitlin O'Keefe Twitter Producer, Podcasts & New Programs
Caitlin O'Keefe is a producer of podcasts and new programming at WBUR.

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