"I prefer going down the path of experimentation"
by Dorota Hartwich
- Well-known Polish director of photography and documentary maker Marcin Koszalka talked to us about The Red Spider, her first fictional feature film as director.
Cineuropa: You’re most well known as a documentary maker and director of photography. The Red Spider [+see also:
interview: Marcin Koszalka
film profile] is your first fictional feature film, but you have already used fiction in your documentaries in the past, with completely made-up scenes.
Marcin Koszalka: I don’t believe in documentaries that simply record reality. People have always told me, ever since I was a student, that there’s no such thing as an objective documentary, that a world is always shaped and portrayed in a certain way by the director. Obviously you can make a televised report in which you try to put forward the opinions of everyone, the "for" and "against", to try and reach an objective conclusion. But arthouse documentaries, which I’m a strong defendant of, always incorporate the vision of the writer, a transformation of reality, even though that reality and its characters form the base of the film. I’m not in a position to change their lives, but I can try to shape them in my own way. Because when I make films, I make them a about myself, I choose characters that will suit my intents and purposes. I find it sort of therapeutic.
The main subject of The Red Spider, a serial killer, is a classic that could easily have led you to make a genre film, which your film is not.
The prize I won from critics at the Arras Film Festival reassured me that I did the right thing in going against the flow and taking risks with this film. Instead of trying to prove my skills to the public and myself by making a genre film, I prefer going down the path of experimentation. It’s a risk, but it’s also a committed stance: I can see what has already been tried many times by others. I really needed to work on this story in my own way, it was just too tempting. It’s not the story of my life, but I admit that I do have a bit of a perverse fascination for such dark stories. They bring out my dark side and if I’m honest, I’m attracted to the enigma of evil.
In terms of content, the story is vague and ambiguous. Audiences’ are left wondering about the characters’ motives.
For me this was the only way. Trying to give a definition of evil and providing explanations would have been uninspired and kitsch. I don’t avoid providing answers completely, but I give little hints as to the motives of the main characters, highlighting their backgrounds, aspects of their lives, where they live, who they’re close to and external conditions. If I had tried to give the viewer a direct explanation for their evilness, the film wouldn’t have made sense.
The Red Spider contains references to your previous films, notably Killing out of Lust and Declaration of Immortality. It’s almost as if you’re telling the same story through all your films.
Absolutely, they work in sequence: one story holds another, they cross over, complete and follow on from one another. That’s my journey.
To what extent was the historical context of The Red Spider, the 1960s in Poland, in the throes of communism, important to you?
This era gave me an excellent context for the story. If I had set the story in the present day, it would have lost a lot. Being set in 1960s Poland, a very unique time, adds to the film. These were dark times, with little light, emptiness and ordinariness all around: people wore the same clothes, travelled on the bus, there were few cars. If I had transposed the story to the present day, it would have been killed by a number of factors. Furthermore, the setting allowed me to get away from the serial killer stereotype imposed by Anglo-Saxon culture.
For The Red Spider, you were director and director of photography. Is this dual role difficult?
It’s certainly not easy. But once again, I had no choice. Right from the start, it was me who had a vision of this story and I knew that I had to tell it through images, with my colours, my tones. Thankfully, the film wasn’t a large-scale production. It’s an intimate film. If it hadn’t been, perhaps I wouldn’t have been able to manage things on my own and I would have had to find another director of photography. I love telling stories through images, and director of photography is my core profession. It’s true that when you take on two roles at once, you feel a bit alone on set: you don’t have the support of a director of photography who can make suggestions to the director, make comments, advise and criticise. But on the other hand, taking on both roles and not being condemned to conflict, to differences of opinion and vision, is quite nice.
(Translated from French)