A lift full of stories
by Dorota Hartwich
- Interview with a director who was born in Poland, lives and works in Germany, and has won multiple awards for his debut feature
Tomasz Emil Rudzik’s debut feature Desperados on the Block [+see also:
interview: Tomasz Emil Rudzik
film profile] has won awards at numerous festivals, including Munich, Starnberg and Lecce (Italy) where it enjoyed triple success, scooping Best Film, the FIPRESCI Prize and the Cineuropa Award.
Cineuropa: Desperados on the Block is based on your personal experience in a lift when you were in a German university residence. Did you imagine at the time that you would use it for a film?
Tomasz Emil Rudzik: I lived for three years in that student residence in Germany, a building with 19 floors and 630 rooms. Faced with the immense anonymity of the place, I decided to try to break through it and find a way of getting to know the surroundings and the people. So I spent a week in the lift, from morning until evening, to have the opportunity to come into contact with people. That’s how I heard about lots of very interesting individual stories. But, at the outset, I wasn’t thinking about a film, I did it simply out of an interest in other people.
What were the reactions of those using the lift?
Very varied. On the first day, we barely spoke to each other, but after three days, people got used to my presence and the conversation started. I witnessed all sorts of situations: there were quarrels, tears, a whole range of emotions. What touched me most were the stories of foreign students: I got the impression they carried within them a feeling of homelessness. It was very moving to see how much they tried to escape that condition. Only at that point did I think it could become the subject of my debut feature. The film can be interpreted as a way of casting a bitter look at the masses of lonely human beings who pass each other in the streets of Europe.
Had you imagined the film as a metaphor for the problems of integration and lack of understanding between individuals?
Yes. In my view, it’s a metaphorical image, not so much of Europe, but of the world. My characters come from different geographical areas, from different continents. When the film was in the project stage, I had a total of 20 stories and I chose three of them. What was significant was the fact that I got to know these stories in a lift, a place that I believe has a symbolic significance: a sort of non-place, a no man’s land, a very confined space which brings together very different people and their stories. At the same time, it’s a place of transit: you’re always between places. I really like these types of places: lifts, motorway stopovers.
How did you choose the actors, some of whom are non-professionals?
The essential thing was finding people and not necessarily actors. I therefore looked for individuals who had been personally marked by experiences in some way comparable to those I wanted to describe. It was a long search: for example, it took ten months to find Andreas Heindel for the role of Motek, and a year for Lizhe Liu who plays Sin Xiah. The principle I wanted to apply was: “Don’t act, but simply be yourselves”. So in the film there are lots of non-professional extras, Bulgarians, Albanians and Romanians...
You were born in Poland, but at the age of eight you emigrated to Germany, where you’ve lived ever since. Your characters’ experience is also your own. Do you think that personal experience is necessary in making a good film?
Yes, if we want to make an honest film and tell the story in an authentic way, our experiences become an essential element.
In your film, we sense the influence of Krzysztof Kieślowski and other masters of Polish cinema. Are you particularly inspired by some of them?
Of course. For me, one of the most important films is Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue, which, moreover, I find much more powerful than [his] Three Colours. On the whole, I’m very interested in Polish and Eastern European films. I’m currently taking part in the Ekran programme at the Wajda Master School in Poland where I’m developing my next film. I’m thus lucky enough to benefit from the advice of masters like Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Zanussi and Wojciech Marczewski, who encourage me to put my own ideas into film form, to show and describe what really touches me without other aims in mind.
Can you tell us a little about your new project?
No, unfortunately I can’t, except that it will be a film about a form of alienation, once again between borders, this time the Polish and German ones. It’s a true story that I heard about from a Polish girl in the same student residence in Germany.
In Desperados on the Block, you used NoX technology. Is it true that your film is the first feature in the world to be made with this technology?
I think it’s likely, but I’m not entirely certain. Given the film’s small budget (under €200,000), we had no other possibility but to shoot in digital. It was an experiment that paid off, I think, because the effect is really satisfactory. We obtained a high-quality image. However, the film still has no distributor. We’re still looking for one so we can get the film into theatres.