“Communism is one of the worst things that happened to the world”
by Joseph Proimakis
- BERLIN 2016: First-time Berlinale competitor Tomasz Wasilewski discusses his Best Script-awarded film United States of Love, the plights of communism and the importance of women
First-time Berlinale competitor Tomasz Wasilewski came to Berlin a newbie and left an award winner with United States of Love [+see also:
interview: Tomasz Wasilewski
film profile], his story of three women suffering emotional and nervous breakdowns in the aftermath of the Polish communist era, which earned him the Best Script Award.
Cineuropa: You were probably just a boy back in the 1990s, so what made you want to go back to that era with such a highly emotional story?
Tomasz Wasilewski: Well, at some point I started thinking about my parents, and the choices my parents had when they were my age – at that time, they were five years older than I am now. When I started talking to them about that period, the end of communism, I realised that they had totally different choices, a totally different life to the one I have. That inspired me to go back to that time, but not use politics, because I don't remember the politics from that time. I just remember the people who I grew up surrounded by. And they were the ones I wanted to portray, along with the very few life choices available to them.
What made you want to keep your point of view so strictly feminine?
Well, in my films in general, women interest me the most. I think they hold such mystery and have so many layers that, as a director, I could dive into that and swim for 100 years and never finish exploring it. Regarding this film specifically, I solely remember this era through women's eyes. After communism collapsed, my father left Poland for New York for a few years, to earn some money to buy my family an apartment in Warsaw – he felt it was the only way to secure a better future for my sister and me. And he was right. So he left, just like the husband of one of my characters, who's moved to West Germany. Actually, in the scene where they're watching the video of him, that's one of the original VHS tapes that my father had sent us (minus the porn scene). This happened to a lot of families – a lot of the men left, and I stayed at home with my mum and my older sister. And there were all of these women, my mum's friends, my sister’s friends; they were my only environment at home. So I only remember that transformative time through women’s eyes.
How did Oleg Mutu come on board? You've been wanting to work with him for a while, right?
Yes, years before I even made my first movie! After watching 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [+see also:
interview: Cristian Mungiu
interview: Oleg Mutu
film profile], I left the cinema feeling absolutely devastated, and I knew I had to work with him at some point. So when I was preparing this movie, I got hold of his phone number, called him and said, "Hi, I'm this Polish director; would you consider working with me?" He gets at least one of these calls a day from all around the world, but he was like, "Ok, send me the script," which I did, and one week later he called and said, "I really like the story and the way you want to do it." And through it, we found out that we're interested in the same things in cinema; he was like my cinematic other half! When we worked together, it was the first time that I felt so strongly that we were building this world together, as one. And he's an amazing person, too, a really good person, which shows on screen. He loves people and knows how to look at them, and that's very important because you can't be a good DoP when you're a bad person.
Your film has a very distinctive palette, devoid of colour in the same way that your characters’ lives seem to be devoid of joy. Or is it a sort of nostalgic filter?
The way we approached it was that we both grew up surrounded by communism, but in different countries. And what was very important to me was not only to have the Polish perspective on communism, but to relate the feeling of communism in general. Because it wasn't just a Polish thing; it was a regime present in half of Europe. So we talked about it a lot, and what we realised was that we didn't have any colours in our memories of the time. So we said, “Ok, let’s put it down how we remember it.” But no, I have no nostalgia of that time. Communism is the worst thing that happened to the world, or at least one of the worst. Growing up in a closed place where you have no opportunities… I remember my parents wanted to buy a car. There were these very small Polish cars available, and it was impossible to just go and buy a car. My mum always dreamt of the red car, but you had to sign up, and I remember they got a letter saying that, in two years’ time, on my birthday, they would be able to get a car. But it would be the white car. If you went for the red, you had to wait for another year. But you can deal with stuff like that; it’s when people are not free that it's really hard. I was lucky enough that I was too little to realise all of this at the time, but this was the reality for our parents. It's hard, and I hope it never happens again. As for the rest of the communist countries in the world, I hope it collapses, as it did in Europe, because we need to be free.