Malgorzata Szumowska • Director
by Dorota Hartwich
07/05/2009 - Born in 1973, Poland’s Malgorzata Szumowska studied art history before graduating from Lodz Film School. Her debut short Silence won awards at numerous international festivals and her second work, Ascension, was presented in the Cinéfondation programme at the 1999 Cannes Festival.
Her debut feature, Happy Man (2000), received a Special Prize for Artistic Achievement at the Thessaloniki Film Festival and a European Film Award nomination for Discovery of the Year, while her following film, Stranger [trailer], screened in competition in 2005 at Sundance and the Berlinale Panorama. Szumowska’s third feature, 33 Scenes from Life [trailer] scooped the Silver Leopard at the 2008 Locarno Film Festival and Best Film of the Year at the 2009 Polish Film Awards.
The screenplay for her new project, Sponsoring (co-written by Tine Byrckel), has been selected for the Cinéfondation Atelier at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Cineuropa: Where does the figure in the title 33 Scenes from Life come from? Does it have a special significance?
Malgorzata Szumowska: It’s purely accidental. I got into the habit of taking notes on my life. After one year, I came across a pile of these writings. There were 33 pages. As I read them, I said to myself that these notes could be developed and turned into whole scenes, 33 scenes from life. So I decided to use the material to make a film.
My producer and I liked the title immediately. The structure imposed by the notes also appealed to me: a fragmented structure and a non-linear narrative. I’ve heard people say that the title could be a reference to Christ’s age. This interpretation is also possible: the female protagonist is at a turning point in her life. Rather belatedly, she crosses the threshold from childhood into adulthood.
The film is shot in a minimalist style, with a generous dose of realism, close to the documentary form. Was this your intention from the outset?
I’ll have to go back in time a bit. For my second feature, Stranger, which was completely different from my debut work, Happy Man, I needed ornate details: the film was thus distanced from reality, it was fictional and had a baroque style, so to speak. I intended it to be this way, but in reality I don’t fully identify with this style. It was a need I felt at the time, a learning process. For 33 Scenes from Life, I immediately came up with the idea of a documentary-like style. I wanted to preserve the unity of time and action, to leave space for the interplay of emotions.
This autumn, you’ll start shooting Sponsoring, which deals with the subject of young women who prostitute themselves to earn money during their studies. What attracted you to this subject?
It was producer Marianne Slot’s idea to make a film about prostitution among students in universities and higher education institutes, etc. She spent a year and a half looking for a director. I find this subject fascinating, it’s a discovery.
Like 33 Scenes from Life, in which you touched upon taboo subjects, Sponsoring explores issues that are considered shameful and usually hidden.
That’s right, the phenomenon of "sponsoring" girls initially provokes a feeling of outrage, but we also find ourselves in the fascinating position of voyeur. We, and then the viewers, become in a sense witnesses to this disturbing intimacy and materialistic obsession, which lures most of us.
The focus is therefore not solely on the social issues to be explored in the film, but also on a human and universal theme. For through these examples of individual girls, we hope to show the complexity of desires for social status, money and sex. In reality, the film deals a lot with sexuality, that of both women and men – issues that concern us all.