MARCH2014 an eye on the cinema by NISI MASA
SIGHT SWIPE In the Name of... Olena Life Feels Good The Girl from the Wardrobe DOSSIER POLISH CINEMA Floating Towards a New Identiy Interview Tomas Wasilewski Floating Skyscrapers SHORT WAVES 2014 The Most Substantial Festival for Short Cinema
CREDITS Más y Más is a publication by NISI MASA NISI MASA European Network of Young Cinema 99 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis 75010 Paris, France Editorial Staff Team Matthias Van Hijfte firstname.lastname@example.org Mirona Nicola email@example.com
“The mere fact of tackling the theme of a great importance is not enough to stir emotions in the audience anymore since the main social group filling the cinema halls luckily has not witnessed most of the tragedies of the twentieth century. Now, Polish cinema is rather about an appealing story that escapes banal patterns and predictable turn of events. “
Luisa Riviere firstname.lastname@example.org Francesca Merlo graphic design - layout email@example.com Collaborators Ewa Wildner Weronika Drzewińska Laura Van Zuylen Nino Kovacic Ugnė Česnavičiūtė Lilla Puskás
cover photo credits: www.themoviejuerk.co.uk
“ We only tried to tell a story about real people. [...] the most important thing was to tell the truth. That’s why there’s not a lot of social background, but emotions”
SIGHT SWIPE 5 In the Name of... 6 Olena 7 The Girl from the Wardrobe 8 Life Feels Good
by Matthias Van Hijfte by Laura Van Zuylen by Nino Kovacic by Ugnė Česnavičiūtė
DOSSIER 10 Polish Cinema Floating Towards a New Identity
by Matthias Van Hijfte & Ewa Wildner
INTERVIEW & REVIEW 14
Interview with... Tomas Wasilewski
by Nino Kovacic
by Lilla Puskás
SHORT WAVES 17
The most Substantial Festival for Short Cinema
by Weronika Drzewińska
photo credits: www.themoviejuerk.co.uk
In the name of... by Malgorzata Szumowska Roguish. Some films you cannot define by one word, but with Szumowska’s melodrama, for me, it is like she is the promoting agent for the word. She manages to push the Eastern European bleakness to the background of the screen and puts a strange playfulness at the center of her dramatically heavy film. In the film we follow Priest Adam who preaches in a small Polish village while also mentoring young adults who have behavioral problems. On top of the fact that Priest Adam does not seem to fit in the rural environment, we gradually discover - after being introduced to a balanced palette of characters - that Adam also struggles with his sexual identity. The fact that Adam does not seem to fit in the setting is not only emphasized by his frequent escapist jogs - which is still a typical habit of city people - but foremost by his modern and rather ‘teenager’ approach to life. Drinking your ass off with only your underpants and a shirt on while trying to exorcise ‘wrong’ feelings by singing along with loud music; it is only one of the many examples that constitute his struggle with age and, with life generally. Moreover, the young adults living in the small community of boys - from whom Adam is kind of a shepherd - are therefore both comforting and disturbing for the priest’s mind. He plays soccer, works and eats with them and therefore has a strong bond with the
boys. Naturally, things start to get out of hand when Adam and the weird neighbor boy ‘Humpty’- excellently played by Mateusz Kosciukiewicz - find a deeper connection and people around them start to sense there is more going on between them than just friendship. Director Szumowska has some difficulties to envision the whole story structurally at the end of the film and sometimes delivers too much punches of drama to the audience, but the scenes where the boys interact - with or without Adam - are absolutely bursting with energy and fine observations. She really can dig deep into characters and put it on the screen in a very physical way. Furthermore, she also manages to keep the whole offensive nature of the story - boys smoking weed, suicide … - strangely light due to the amount of energy that is flowing through the film. I saw the film last year at the Berlinale - where it won the Teddy Award - and the scene where Adam and Humpty ‘go monkey’ still sometimes pops up in my mind. Szumowska obviously has not produced her masterpiece yet, but this film definitely offers glimpses where she stands out as a great director. by Matthias Van Hijfte
photo credits: S. Witek
Olena by Elzbieta Benkowska Love is blind and 25-year-old Elzbieta Benkowska shows how it can blur our judgement. Withstanding a melodramatic angle, the Polish director makes us witness a turning point in the destructive relationship of 2 young Ukrainian lovers who travel from Poland to Sweden. Benkowska’s film is not a masterpiece but does have some great ideas on a visual level. With the glamorous and grotesque Cannes on the background, Olena underlines that the life of common people is intriguing and important. These two runaways are not distinguishing themselves in a remarkable way: they charm the viewer with realism. Naturally played, the actors subtly give us a gallant inside view. The personalities of their roles are mostly defined by their problems, so the viewer never gets truly involved. Too bad, because the film is based on Benkowska’s own experiences so the film could be a lot more captivating and personal. 6
However that is forgivable as this short film is visually promising. The director sets her characters in a landscape dictated by train tracks. Olena’s world is not romantic pink or happy yellow, instead its colored green elements in costumes, environment and the whole shades of the picture. It shows the intoxication of love: when a final decision is made, the presence of green drops on the background, implying that Olena’s sight has cleared up. Not so much embedded in feminist discussion as much as in individualism, the film is a plea for making your own choices and acceptance of the fact that you are alone in the end. Having said this, fortunately Benkowska never gets cynical. by Laura Van Zuylen
This article was orginally published in Nisimazine Cannes 2013. You can read the whole issue here.
The Girl from the Wardrobe by Bodo Kox The capability of film to be a visual shortcut to the most extravagant parallel and alternative realities, as well as to present the possibility of escapism from the everyday is probably the most potent characteristic of the film media. In The Girl from the Wardrobe, a Polish debut by Bodo Kox, that potential is used up with unusual visual creativity and care for the characters.
The Girl from the Wardrobe is not only visually haunting at times, but holds a steady pace throughout, particularly due to well written dialogues. Also, well directed and timed comic moments and very good performances by all of the main and side cast make the film easy to follow and fun to watch. A disciplined and convincing role of the autistic Tomek, played by Wojciech Mecwaldowski, communicates well with the role of his brother Jacek, performed without a fault by Piotr Głowacki, making the two a loveable duo on screen. Since the film was both written and directed by Bodo Kox, due to his specific sense of stylization and imaginative filmmaking we can look forward to his future takes on alternative universes when it comes to intimacy and relationships. by Nino Kovacic
photo credits: Karlovy Vary Film Festival
In this tragicomic story of three very different people and their specific types of loneliness, a common thread of unselfish love is tangled between them. It is there for the viewer to follow and untangle it in the way he or she prefers. Jacek takes care of his brother Tomek who has the savant syndrome, and partly to this, Jacek is unable to have a stable relationship. Across the hallway lives Magda, suffering from severe social anxiety and druginduced hallucinations. She spends most of her time sleeping and hallucinating in the closet. At times we get immersed into Tomek’s and Magda’s alternative worlds, into scenes that seem to be projected directly from the cortex of the characters; a hyper-realist space that is,
nevertheless, part of the same film reality. While Tomek observes the sky full of Zeppelins, a rainforest portal is opened for Madga in her closet.
This article was orginally published in Nisimazine Karlovy Vary 2013. You can read the whole issue here.
photo credits: www.clevelandfilm.org
Life Feels Good by Maciej Pieprzyca Life is beautiful. Life is good. Life feels good. How often do we hear it from a child unable to speak? In his new film, Life Feels Good, Polish director Maciej Pieprzyca confronts his audience with such questions through a character who has cerebral palsy and does not speak. There is a saying- when you lose something, you realize how much that something means to you. But how can Mateusz understand his loss, or how can he compare two different lives, if the one he lives is the only one he knows? Life Feels Good starts with a static scene, which sets the tone and atmosphere of the entire film. The helpless boy sits in his wheelchair facing four tough-looking judges. They will decide his fate for him. After all, they can’t ask the boy himself… And yet the viewer should not be deceived. Although Mateusz has cerebral palsy, mentally he is completely healthy, and it doesn’t take long for the audience to understand it. The story is being told by its main character. The film retrospectively narrates the character’s life since 1987, when he was evaluated as a vegetable, until 2010, when he is re-evaluated. The film is divided into seven parts with one-word symbolic titles. These divide
Mateusz’s life into major events, revealing his approach to life. Even though others don’t understand him, the man keeps a sense of humor that helps him live on, this irony making the film both sensitive and serious. Although based on a true story, this is not a biographical film. And yet, we can’t stop asking ourselves whether the main character is an actor or a real person due to the convincing performance by non-disabled actor Dawid Ogrodnik. Low angles and closeups accurately illustrate his living conditions, although a regular audience can only have little knowledge and understanding of it. A slow piano melody of Bartosz Chajdecki accompanies the images throughout the film, enhancing the emotional impression. At the end of a two-hour life story we ask- what is the message of another The diving bell and the butterfly story? Is it that obvious that life feels good? Is it perhaps actually about raising more questionsabout death, happiness, joy and love? Is that another reminder of the screen which we don’t see around us in reality? Even so, the film made my life feel if not God, than really good. by Ugnė Česnavičiūtė
This article was orginally published in Nisimazine Tallin 2013. You can read the whole issue here.
Polish Cinema: Floating towards a new identity
Polish Cinema: floating towards a new identity written by Matthias Van Hijfte & Ewa Wildner
hat is going on in Eastern Europe? Nowadays everyone wants to throw their opinion in the haystack of burning feelings about the Ukrainian drama. The problem of Ukraine is that there is no black and white way you can approach the problem of the messed up power relations within the country (note: I am not talking about the mass murder ordered by former president Viktor Yanukovych, which is just a fact). Moreover, no one knows exactly where the gray area lays. How can you approach the problem with so much division in the culture of the people within the area itself? The Soviet era is, relatively speaking, also not that long ago in the past, and a big country like Russia will always have some influence on their neighbor countries, certainly because of the economic prerogatives they can offer in return for their political and cultural cooperation.
European Union. Ukraine has not joined the EU yet, while Poland has been a member since 2004. Moreover, Poland had a breakthrough which Ukraine never had - it escaped from under the Russian grip even before the Soviet Union fell. What is more, Poland is a unique case because of its glorious history which goes back to the end of the Early Middle Ages and because of their iconic Pope Karol Józef Wojtyła (1920-2005) who has inspired so many people but also kept the Catholic doctrine firmly alive. All of these before mentioned factors have contributed to express the fact that people, in Polish cinema, are on the search for themselves in the changing environment of the last quarter decade.
Now, Polish cinema is rather about an appealing story that escapes banal patterns and predictable turn of events.
Nonetheless, in Ukraine everything went bad very fast because of a variety of triggers. And while putting face to face the specific situation of Ukraine to that of Poland leaves little place for comparison, we can compare these countries if we address the identity of their population in a holistic way.
It is like all former Soviet countries had a generation of young adults whereof some part really wants to get away of the bulk of old regimes and find a new - more ‘Western’ - identity (an example of a film depicting this is Yuma by Piotr Mularuk). But they cannot accomplish this because of the corrupt governments, powerful institutions and Russia looking over their shoulder. Luckily for Polish people, Russia has not been able to keep its hold on Poland as its foreign politics focused on searching allies in the West rather than East- a fact that is apparent when looking at the members of the 10
No more whopping war pathos but a search for a more complex identity
But enough with the history, let’s move on to films. Oh wait, no, not exactly – there is this joke in Poland that every second film released is set in the realities either of World War II or the communist regime. Maybe it is because of the tendency to martyrologize, maybe it’s the Slavic melancholy soul that likes to dwell in the past that is to blame. No matter the reason, films about the history of the nation have always been an important part in Polish cinematography, but it is only the new millennium that brought a significant change in the approach to the topic. “We are not going to make it into the film festival, are we?” asks one of the Polish actors in a promotional spot for the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival. The spot shows a 90-second mock-film whose pick of action is the discussion of why this film is so boring and Geoffrey Rush stating that he peeled a potato. The campaign was made to show what kind of movies are not to be found in the festival programme, and nailed it when it
comes to the parodic (mis)representation of what is associated with the Polish, and sometimes also Eastern European cinema in general. Slow action, monotony in the storyline, as well as grievous events of the past dominating the all-too-patriotic script – that is the full stereotype. However, the notion that a drop of pathos is necessary when approaching the big theme has been graciously challenged in contemporary Polish cinema, and this change is embodied by a petite heroine named Ida, of the eponymous film.
photo credits: www.culture.pl
The protagonist of Paweł Pawlikowski’s film comes from the generation which cannot recall the war vividly and the film realizes the aim to appeal to the audience of the same characteristic. Standing on the doorstep of a convent, young Ida is preoccupied with her own identity, as a woman and a youngster on the verge of adulthood, rather than her national identity – in contrast to many previous cinematic heroes entangled in history. Here, the war as well as the communist regime are the background needed to enrich the characters psychologically, rather than an element dominating the script. The same can be said for Borys Lankosz’s Reverse (“Rewers”), a black comedy set in the 1950s, which
shows the other side of the coin of how a historic subject can be dealt with. The mere fact of tackling the theme of a great importance is not enough to stir emotions in the audience anymore since the main social group filling the cinema halls luckily has not witnessed most of the tragedies of the twentieth century. Both of these conditions are amply fulfilled in Rose (“Róza”), one of the most memorable films about World War II made in a decade, if not the best amongst them. Telling the story of former guerrilla fighter Tadeusz and outcast Róza in an uneasy after-war reality, the director Wojciech Smarzowski caused many depressions among the viewers but showed that pathos doesn’t have to be as paramount as the events it accompanies. Let it be the proof that sometimes it is better to dissolve the past in a tub full of acid when it naggingly influences the present – like it is literally done in Reverse. A new generation that dares to search for boundaries Though Poland always had great cinema maestros (Agnieszka Holland, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Andrzej Wajda …) who pushed boundaries - Polish cinema nowadays is really getting out of its comfort zone. A new generation of filmmakers is addressing a range of unexplored identities, and because of the bold way these filmmakers address these variety of lifestyles, Polish films are bringing more and more color to film festivals around the world. Although there never was an absolute turning point to be noticed, it is clear that in the last years there is a new vibe flowing through the Polish film scene. The details of these new films are maybe still rooted in an awareness of Polish culture, but, as for instance in the case of Floating Skyscrapers (“Płynące wieżowce”) of Tomasz Wasilewski, many critics noticed that it could easily be a Scandinavian film. So the style of Polish cinema has developed a more universal touch which was highly appreciated at festivals around the world.
Day of the Wacko (“Dzień świra”) is a darkly humorous film from 2002 about an embittered man who lives in his own reality. The film is highly popular in Poland but mostly unknown in other countries. I am definitely not going to argue that Day of the Wacko is not a great film; but I did not and could not feel the same connection with the style and humor of the movie that Polish viewers experienced. It is in this sense that I would say 11
that Floating Skyscrapers is a major step forward for Polish cinema as it proposes a story and an approach that can be equally appreciated abroad. A strong sign confirming that this generation of Polish filmmakers is feeling a change in identity is that they dare to go for highly controversial topics. A fine example in that scope is Malgorzata Szumowska’s In the Name Of (“W Imie”) which goes far in attacking the absurdity of the Catholic doctrine. At the same time, the film also marks one of the first steps of Polish cinema dealing with homosexual themes. Winning the Teddy Bear Award at the Berlinale is also an acknowledgment of the fact that Polish cinema is producing strong stories that work with an audience. Moreover, films like Jan Komasa’s Suicide room (“Sala Samobojców”), a film about a kid hiding in the virtual space of chatting room, and Secret (“Sekret”) by Przemysław Wojcieszek, which tells the story of a drag queen, are strong evidence of the fact that a new generation of Polish filmmakers are willing to broaden the scope of their national cinema. To boot, the short film production in Poland is strongly alive and delivers excellent output. One of those refreshingly brave efforts is Fishboy (“Ziegenort”) by Tomasz Popakul, which is a fascinating and disturbing story of a half boy/half fish who does not find his place in society because of his appearance. The short film is 12
photo credits: e-kalejdoskop.pl
photo credits: polishorts.pl
brought with powerful imaginative animation and the theme of the film gives that same gut wrenching feeling as The Elephant Man of David Lynch. Another delightfully and visually striking short is Such a Landscape (“Taki pejzaz”) by Jagoda Szelc, which stays close to the bodies of the different protagonists and tells the story through wondering emotions instead of relying on a narrative structure. Polish cinema has thus matured in many ways and has definitely a new generation that found a way to show how people in Poland nowadays live. So, never file Polish cinema under the over-simplifying label of Eastern European cinema, because that does not cover the load at all. From 1989 until now the film scene in Poland has proven to be a challenging and growing force in the world of cinema, so watch out for Polish cinema on this year’s film festivals; they are worthy of your interest.
photo credits: www.filmuforia.co.uk
TOMAS Wasilewski DIRECTOR OF ‘FLOATING SKYSCRAPERS’ EAST OF THE EAST WINNER Tomasz Wasilewski is one of Poland’s most promising young stars behind the camera. Last year his debut feature In the Bedroom was a ma jor hit in the festival circuit, which included a stop at the Kaunas International Film Festival, where Nisimazine had a chance to catch up with him. At Karlovy Vary we met up with him once again in order to hear all the details of his new controversial film, Floating Skyscrapers.
What is Floating Skyscrapers about? The films I make and the scripts I write are about love. That is the content of Floating Skyscrapers which has a complex situation: it’s a story of finding oneself and one’s way in life by fighting for the thing you love; about a relationships between two men, a guy and a girl, mother and son, father and son. For me and the actors it was a journey inside human beings where we tried to reach the deepest levels of human sensibility. How did you choose such an unusual title? When I was in New York for the first time, around the age of 13, my father took the family to the UN and as we were taking a family photo I had two words for the skyscrapers in Manhattan: floating skyscrapers. I told myself that one day I’m going to make a movie with this title. So I combined the title with this script and when I thought about the emotions, they seemed to fit.
What is your new outlook when it comes to homosexuality in Polish film? There is another Polish movie, In the Name of, screened at Berlinale, that is also touching the subject. It is something new for Polish cinema. Until now we didn’t have gay or lesbian protagonists. There was a void for these characters so Floating Skyscrapers opens up a new subject. When we were making the movie we never thought about it being controversial, but we are only now thinking about it when being asked. We tried to tell a story about real people. Of course, we chose the characters and the topic to do something for the first time, but the most important thing was to tell the truth. That’s why there is not a lot of social background, but emotions. I wanted to tell this story through people, their love and pain, so it would be easier for the viewer to combine and understand the characters. What are the reactions from Polish viewers so far? It still wasn’t screened in Poland. The world premiere was at Tribeca Film Festival, the European one here, in
INTERVIEW Karlovy Vary, and the Polish premiere is going to be at New Horizons in Wroclaw. I’m very excited about it. I’ve talked to some Poles here and heard some very good things about the movie: they told me it’s a good movie, not considering it to be a gay story, but just found it touching. Some will see at as a gay movie and not like it, but that’s art. How did you decide to have such a main character? It was important to try to escape the clichés as much as I could, as I didn’t want a movie about a poor gay victim because it’s a cinema stereotype. When we started the rehearsals, the most important topic was love and for the first two months we didn’t consider gender at all, only emotional reactions. When we added gender, it changed the whole script once again but it had the basis of real emotions. I wanted to make the main character as common as he could be. It is more fascinating to deal with this problem in such an environment. Did you have any major production challenges?
Any future projects at this point? I already have a script for my next movie and will still work on it in the next months. The working title is United States of Love and it’s about women. Just like in my first movie, In the Bedroom, where the main character is a 40-year old woman, this topic interests me the most in cinema. Women are a mystery and I find women protagonists fascinating. We have amazing actresses in Poland. In Floating Skyscrapers the women are very strong and I would never consider my movie as gay, just a movie with a gay plot. The guy is in love with a girl and a man and those characters are very equal. Until recently we had only male protagonists in Polish cinema. by Nino Kovačić
photo credits: www.zimbio.com
It was an independent movie without a big or closed budget and it was difficult to find money for it. I started shooting it before the première of my first movie, so nobody in Poland knew who I was and what I was capable of. But the producers liked the script, and decided to make it.
This article was orginally published in Nisimazine Karlovy Vary 2013. You can read the whole issue here. 15
Floating Skyscrapers by Tomasz Wasilewski // Poland Even though queer movies are produced in Poland since the mid 1980’s, the struggle for LGBT equality in the last couple of years’ encourages more and more scriptwriters to turn towards the stories of this community. This year Malgoska Szumowska’s In the name of… was screened at the Berlinale and Tomasz Wasilewski’s second feature film, Floating skyscrapers won the East of the West section at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Hopefully the success of these movies will help the Polish equality movement reach its aims.
The focus of Floating Skyscrapers is on the most important questions in the life of young people: career and love. In the centre of the classical melodrama narrative is a love triangle between Kuba, a successful athlete, his girlfriend, Sylwia, and a new friend, Michel, who they meet at an exhibition opening. In the beginning, Kuba denies his feelings towards Michel, but as time passes, he admits that he does have them. Therefore, his life turns upside down. Due to the overwhelming love he feels both his career and his private life fall apart. The plot would work as a romance in a Western-European environment but in this Central-European context, where homophobia is still a current problem both in a political and everyday level, it can’t be anything else but a melodrama. The visual world of the movie is memorable, especially the special compositions and the underwater scenes. Besides the portraying of deep love, sexuality is also depicted on a relatively open, passionate but still not provocative way. The several close-ups of Kuba’s face help the viewer to get close and empathize with him. Both the script and the direction of Tomasz Wasilewski are excellent: we can see complex situations, realistic conflicts, well constructed characters with understandable motivations. Only the family relationships of Kuba and Michel are unrealistic and not detailed enough. The three main actors played in TV- series and short movies before. Luckily, this time they could challenge themselves with a feature film. It was obviously a good decision, first of all because of Mateusz Banasiuk’s acting. I absolutely agree with the Jury’s decision. Floating Skyscrapers is a well-done movie, accompanied by impressive film music, it is absolutely worth to watching. by Lilla Puskás
This article was orginally published in Nisimazine Karlovy Vary 2013. You can read the whole issue here.
SHORT WAVES The most substantial festival of short cinema Ten years ago short cinema in Poland was a niche phenomenon reserved for students and amateurs. The Ad Arte foundation decided to change the status quo by showing the audience world productions based on great ideas and detailed screenplays. Short forms give the creators more joy and freedom than fulllength productions: the process of making the film is shorter and the tensions connected with putting the film into circulation are less intense. We have been proving from the very first edition of the Short Waves festival the fact that short films are not worse than full-length ones and, what is more, they can even be better. The first festival of Polish Short Films Short Waves took place in 2009 thanks to a group of enthusiasts. It lasted two weeks and was organized in a form of a tournée. A two-hour-long set of Polish short films reached 28 cities in Poland as well as Berlin, London and Dublin. The audience gave the Grand Prix for the first time – 7 000 PLN was won by Jan P. Matuszyński, the author of a 20-minute-long fiction film “Car Wash”, which resembled both Greek tragedy and the atmosphere of Tarantino’s movies. Since then, Short Waves has been growing and expanding in terms of both content and geographical scope. The Grand Prix competition remained the core part of the festival but starting from 2011 the travelling part of the festival was joined by the stationary one in Poznań, which started to be known as “the capital of short cinema”. In 2014 the festival is celebrating its 6th edition, which is more expanded than ever before. The Grand Prix programme, including 7 movies selected out of 280 submissions, is being screened in 65 locations on 4 continents! Also, the festival itself evolved far beyond the previous borders changing its name to Short Waves Festival and adding some extra events. The organizers put original programme and fresh ideas first. For instance, the first international competition of films about dance in Poland, a screening focused on architecture, and Film Rave - an international filmmaking workshop that lasts for 6 days during the festival. A great novelty and the trademark of SWF is Poznań Open, in which the best 28 Polish short films will compete in order to win prizes totalling 40 000 PLN (the Jury Prize, the Audience Prize and two Honourable Mentions). Although the core idea of Short Waves Festival is to send the best Polish short films to the world and bring what is best internationally to Poznań, the slogan of Short Waves as “the most substantial festival of short cinema” suits best its composite and innovative formula. by Weronika Drzewińska On the basis of press materials of Short Waves Festival 2014