"Making an impact on mentalities that have gone to sleep"
by Dorota Hartwich
24/01/2012 - Sexuality, student prostitution, ageing, eroticism: the Polish director reveals the motivations behind her fourth feature: Elles.
Cineuropa: After the death of close family in 33 Scenes from Life [+see also:
film profile], in Elles [+see also:
film profile] you tackle another taboo subject: student prostitution. Are such sensitive themes essential for making films?
Malgorzata Szumowska: Cinema is a very broad medium. For me, the important thing is dealing with subjects that can make an impact on mentalities that have gone to sleep. But people want to sleep... I really want to make films that can awaken certain questions in them, as well as in myself, and tackle these questions from different angles.
The film tackles a social issue, as well as the more universal subject of eroticism.
This second theme is very important. In my film, a woman realises that her sexual and erotic life isn’t what she wanted. A sort of nostalgia is awakened in her, a form of dissatisfaction. In my opinion, eroticism is an opening to the world, to oneself. But people are often closed to their sexuality, to their bodies. And it’s undoubtedly damaging for their psyche. The social issue is equally important. I show some girls who have sex for money. But it’s their choice, these are their decisions: they set the rules, they’re not victims.
The film could almost play a therapeutic role.
Perhaps, but that wasn’t my aim. Of course, we all (whether it be me or Juliette Binoche) put something personal and intimate into this story. Many things happened at the screenwriting stage, during the shooting and editing of the film.
Did Juliette Binoche influence the screenplay?
Of course. The text arose out of our meetings, our long conversations, and our research.
Why did you choose this subject?
One day, I met a girl who was a student and lived off what is known as sponsoring. She was very elegant and intelligent. She talked to me unashamedly about sex, with no feelings of guilt. And although I’m older and I too can talk about it quite openly, she did so in an even more relaxed way. She amazed me, I felt that I was way behind her, just like the woman played in my film by Juliette Binoche. She too is older than the girls she meets and yet they will teach her things.
Another taboo subject appears in the film: ageing.
Yes, it’s an important strand. There are two perspectives: that of the young girls and that of a woman who sees herself ageing, a role that Juliette Binoche consciously chose: she doesn’t hide her ageing, she lets it show. I respect her a lot for that.
It would appear that the film shocks some of the male members of the audience. Were you expecting these reactions?
It doesn’t surprise me. I was expecting some men to reject this intimately woman-centred film, for them to see it as an attack against them. But this is obviously completely wrong. The film could have been called Eux (translator’s note: masculine plural pronoun) instead of Elles, because it also talks about men and it doesn’t do so in a bad way. It’s true that when it comes to sexuality, women are stronger than men. Men who accept this will like the film, the others won’t. I know that the film divides audiences. In the news columns, there are aggressive reviews and very good opinions. And I’m very happy with both.
You’re making a new film at the moment. Is it about another taboo subject?
Of course. I’m in the final stage of editing on Nowhere. I can’t say any more about it, other than it’s the story of a Catholic priest in a Polish village... The cast includes some very good Polish actors, stars like Andrzej Chyra, Maja Ostaszewska and Mateusz Kościukiewicz. The storyline is based on real events. I hope the film will be released in Poland next autumn.