When ordinary meets extraordinary
by Dorota Hartwich
- Interview with the new star of Polish cinema, a director who started out in documentaries and decided to play with the conventions of narrative film
Originally a documentary filmmaker, Borys Lankosz won the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco Film Festival in 2002 and the Silver Dragon at Krakow for Evolution (2001). He picked up honours this year for Radegast, winning the Silver Fenix at the Jewish Motifs Festival. His debut narrative feature, The Reverse [+see also:
interview: Agata Buzek - actress
interview: Borys Lankosz
film profile], is now on course for success.
Cineuropa: The title The Reverse could be interpreted in different ways. What does it mean to you?
Borys Lankosz: I prefer not to explain it and let viewers guess. For the film’s advertising slogan, the distributor has chosen the phrase: "There’s another side to everything." Indeed, I present another view of the Stalin era, I show the reality from a woman’s perspective. I like films about women and I think there are too few of them. I thus wanted to offer this different viewpoint.
But above all, the film is the story of spiritual victory, a tale of women who have to fight against the evil which erupts in their lives and who find themselves under pressure. In this sense, it’s a sort of study of ordinary people in an extraordinary situation.
The title also seems to suggest the overturning of traditional models of creation and genres, as well as your need to explode form.
Indeed, I wanted the film to offer lots of room for play and for viewers to be able to engage directly with the “cinema within cinema” aspect. There are no direct quotations or obvious points of reference in the film, but this element of play with cinematic conventions is very important. I love films that go against the grain somewhat. I love all of Polanski’s films, as well as those of Kubrick, Buñuel and Bergman.
Although the 1950s are perfectly recreated through the set design, make-up and costumes, there is nothing documentary-like about the film, which at times even ventures into the abstract. And the characters are only "heroes" in inverted commas.
This leaning towards the abstract was my choice and is fully intentional. I don’t really like politically engaged social-realist cinema. The costumes and sets give me a sense of freedom and free me from the present.
We can really sense this freedom: you easily juggle different genres. But we can also see you have an immensely disciplined approach to your work.
Yes, the film passes through different genres: the middle-class drama, the burlesque, black comedy... It was a real pleasure, everything was laid out in Andrzej Bart’s superb screenplay. I just had to be very careful not to ruin this effect. Moreover, you’re right, I was serious in my approach to the story: I carried out research, I read a lot about life under Stalin, watched films and cinematic accounts.
All these elements together are a real brainteaser for viewers. You must have faith in the audience.
I think audiences are more intelligent than they seem. For me, the issue of responsibility towards viewers is fundamental. First and foremost, I consider myself a viewer and I’m eager to satisfy the person who gives up two hours of their time to watch my film in a movie theatre. I do my best to find good stories and show them.
Up to now, you were making documentaries, in different parts of the world. Did this experience prove useful when making your first narrative feature?
Yes, of course. I matured thanks to my work as a documentary filmmaker. I travelled a lot and met different people. It’s essential.
You’re hailed as leader of the new Polish Film School. How do you see yourself in this role?
I feel a bit embarrassed by such assertions. But I recently talked to someone who remembers the time when the real Polish Film School was forming. And those who were given this label back then can’t have been very comfortable with it either. Now, the most important thing for me to do is remain steady and calm in the face of all this attention I’m getting.