"Why talk when the images tell you everything?"
by Dorota Hartwich
- Maciej Pieprzyca, who won several awards in 2013 for Life Feels Good, talks to us about his new film, I’m a Killer.
Cineuropa: In 1998 you made a documentary about the Zagłębie vampire, a minor news item from the 1970s that ended in an innocent man being sentenced to death. Why did you want to revisit this story with I’m a Killer [+see also:
interview: Maciej Pieprzyca
film profile], this time through fiction?Maciej Pieprzyca: I haven’t revisited the story directly. The true story merely gave me an excuse to focus on a man, and on how he deals with the specific situation he finds himself in, under immense pressure and stress, a situation which reveals a lot about him and brings things out in him: good things, but bad things too... It's this human side of the story that I found interesting. The documentary contained 100% truth, whilst I’m a Killer is fictional. I have a very personal way of working, which I also applied to my previous film, Life Feels Good [+see also:
film profile] and which I call 'true creation'. But this creation rests on solid background material. I base my work on truth, but I combine truth with fiction, I reverse the facts, mix them up for the good of the story I’m telling. For I’m a Killer, I drew my inspiration from a true story, changing the names, places, and dates. But I kept essential elements of the story.
The main character has universal appeal. He is the perfect example of an individual who is completely smothered by the system.
Not only by the system, but by himself as well, by what he carries inside and his own inclinations... Dostoevsky once said (and I agree with him), that man can be as good as he can evil, but good or evil dominates depending on the situation. I think that although the action in my film takes place in the past, the story is a very contemporary one. The problems my characters have are our problems, my problems. His dilemma is a universal one.
Audiences may see your film in different ways: as a story about the Zagłębie vampire, a universal story, or even a story that references the current social and political situation in Poland.
It’s true that the film is more topical now. But I didn’t expect that to be the case. Filming took place in two stages, during autumn 2015 and spring 2016, and it was in between these two stages that Poland’s political situation changed and the country started moving towards the very system that frames the action in my film. I grew up in the time of the Polish People’s Republic, and what I see going on now really does remind me of what went on during the 1980s.
The press has likened your film to those of the Polish ‘cinema of moral anxiety’ movement, a term used to describe films from the 1970s and early 1980s by Zanussi, Kieslowski, Holland, and Falk. Do you agree?
Yes. We Polish film directors are all branches of the same tree. I’ve seen a lot of films that belong to this movement, some of them before I even started studying film. And of course, I refer to it in my film. One of my favourite films is Top Dog (Wodzirej - 1977) by Feliks Falk, and the main character in I’m a Killer has the same ambiguity as the protagonist of that film.
You wrote the screenplay for I’m a Killer for Arkadiusz Jakubik, and you’ve said that he was the only one who could play the main character in the film. What do you find so captivating about him?
He played the role of the father in Life is good, and his performance in won him the Eagle for Best Supporting Actor from the Polish Film Academy. Arkadiusz is a chameleon. Sometimes actors are the same and play their parts in the same way no matter what film they're in. That’s not the case with him. He’s different in every film he’s in. I liked him so much that I decided to wait for him, as when filming was supposed to start, he was still on the set of a film he was directing. I waited for him, and it was worth it.
Life is good showed the power and strength of man, and the film left the viewer feeling hopeful, whilst I’m a Killer places a character that embodies the darkest side of human nature front and centre. Did you design the two films to contrast with one another?
They have a sort of common denominator. The character in I’m a Killer does have remorse. You can see in the final scene that there’s still something simmering away inside him, that he’s not a complete monster. The two stories are different, but the basic idea is the same. I always like putting man front and centre, with his complex and ambiguous nature that is never black and white. And I always put him to the test. I also like injecting a bit of humour into my films, to make them reflect real life: one moment it’s serious, the next, things are more relaxed. And I noticed that the audience laughed in places, which was good. As far as the final scene is concerned, I changed it during filming. Originally, my character had no remorse, he believed his own lie completely. But we only see this remorse in his eyes, he doesn’t say a word. We also shot the scene with the character talking, but in the end I chose the silent version. And I saw that we didn’t actually need any words. “Why talk when the images tell you everything?”
(Translated from French)