The supreme art of lying
by Dorota Hartwich
- Interview with a director who returns after a 22-year break with a controversial film that challenges official truths and uncovers the shadowy life of a great artist
Jacek Koprowicz caused a scandal in 1984 with Przeznaczenie (“Predestination”), which had to wait two years to be released due mainly to opposition from the family of the writer on whose biography the film was based. Koprowicz went on to direct Medium (1985) and Alchemik (1988) before abandoning cinema. He returns with Mystification [+see also:
interview: Jacek Koprowicz
film profile], which has also sparked controversy.
Cineuropa: What attracted you to Witkacy, without doubt one of the most enigmatic Polish artists of the 20th century?
Jacek Koprowicz: Witkacy has always fascinated me and I’d been considering making a film about him for a very long time. After the famous exhumation in 1988, when the ashes of a young Ukrainian woman were found instead of his, I was encouraged in my desire to follow the trail of his mysterious death. Moreover, Witkacy wrote in one of his theoretical treatises in 1929 that lying is the supreme art. I thus realised that his suicide, in 1939, was a mystification.
Despite this exhumation, the date of Witkacy’s death has never officially been called into question and right from the screenplay stage your film was seen as scandalous. Did this atmosphere bother you during production?
I have a temperament that goes hand in hand with scandal. I find that scandalous subjects are always good material for cinema. In our world, there is always the profound conviction that artists must be seen in a sculptural, statue-like way, as if they were bronze statues. I’m interested in showing the human sides, to what extent creation is connected to life and the price we therefore have to pay to create.
Was it difficult to win the film’s team over to your vision?
I think I succeeded in winning them over. I get the impression that we all believed together in this story, in this conviction that lying is the supreme art. It was rather like we were playing a game with the after-life.
The actors’ performance thus had a double meaning.
Exactly. And I must admit that some of my casting suggestions met with reactions of dismay, even horror. In the choice of actors, what was important wasn’t the physical resemblance, but the strength of character and energy. And I found them. Jerzy Stuhr, who plays Witkacy, has that type of personality, he has that force.
Almost all your films are set against a historical backdrop and political context.
Yes, there is always a certain involvement in History and the fear that arises from it. It’s very important to show this. It makes the storyline more authentic. In Mystification the story can, for example, be interpreted as a fight for freedom. But, of course, not everybody will see it in this way.
Witkacy’s lover plays a central role in the film. Is this female perspective important to you?
It’s fundamental. The film is in fact about a mad love, a real passion. He exists thanks to her, while she is totally dependent on him. It is also a film about impossible feelings.
You made your previous film in 1988 under the Communist regime. Mystification was made under totally different conditions. How do these two realities compare in your opinion?
I have mixed feelings. What I miss most about that time is the fact we had a lot more days of shooting: 90 compared to 32 for Mystification. This meant we had to really speed up the work. I thus take my hat off to the team who fulfilled their task despite these difficult conditions.
A director needs the chance to get some distance from what he has filmed, to improve on the material. For instance, Kieślowski often made many changes after the editing stage, he used to shoot additional scenes – he had time to do so. We didn’t have this opportunity, but I’m still very happy with what we achieved.