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“Film is the perfect medium for showing dreams”

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Greg Zglinski • Director

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- BERLIN 2017: Polish director Greg Zglinski speaks to Cineuropa to reveal the background to his latest feature, Animals, which he is introducing in the Berlinale Forum

Greg Zglinski  • Director

Polish writer-director Greg Zglinski spoke to Cineuropa about the process of making Animals [+see also:
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trailer
film focus
interview: Greg Zglinski
film profile
]
, his latest feature, which he has described as a formally strange film merged with a psychological thriller. It is world-premiering in the Berlinale’s Forum section.

Cineuropa: What is the story behind Animals’ development?
Greg Zglinski:
This story actually came to me; I just rewrote it slightly. The original screenplay was penned by Austrian filmmaker Jörg Kalt, and it was supposed to be his third feature. Unfortunately, he died before production could begin. Four years ago, I met the producer, Stefan Jäger, and we decided to do a project together. On that occasion, I asked him whether the screenplay of Animals was still available because that story was still haunting me. When I got the screenplay for rewrites, I put more psychology into it. I built a modern relationship around the protagonist while maintaining the structure, humour and atmosphere, and I believe this is something that fitted in rather well with it. Going back further into the past, the inspiration for Jörg, as I read in his notes, was a particular picture by MC Escher called Relativity. And Jörg was fascinated by the form of this picture, which he intended to recreate as a story. That was his starting point. It plays with reality and dream – the whole film is built upon this game of what is real and what is mere imagination. Animals is about a man and a woman, and their relationship, about them living in different realities. In my opinion, film is the perfect medium for showing dreams.

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What drew you to the story?
I cannot explain what it was, exactly. When I read the screenplay, I had this feeling that I had touched upon a mystery of life and death. That was my first thought, and the story excited me. I have always been drawn to dreamlike situations in movies, even in my short films that I made before film school. So I am basically returning to my film roots with Animals. The titular animals are catalysts for events to come. For me, animals are creatures teetering between the real and the unreal – they function a little bit outside of human reality, and they represent a sort of bridge between our existence, which we experience with our senses, and the outer world, the wider world waiting to be discovered. And that is just one other thing I wanted to explore, that wider world. 

What was the hardest part of making this surreal story?
Everything. The film has its own logic, and the story structure is built up outside of common logic. I had to rely on my intuition – sometimes I had to say, “It’s like this because it’s like this.” And that may be the trickiest part to do. That was a constant state, during pre-production, shooting and post-production, and especially during editing, because at that point you are tempted to overexplain, and you always have to tread a fine line, making it understandable to viewers but only up to a certain point. And where is that point? We tried out several options, resulting in 28 cuts of the film. The editing was a bit of a trial-and-error process. We knew the concept, but we toyed with different options as well. I wanted to avoid getting too formal. The structure is already very formal and special; that’s why I chose to move in a different direction, to focus on the psychological aspect whenever possible. It worked like a sort of counterbalance. Obviously, a film cannot be boring, so for me, one of the main goals is to be close to and to identify with a protagonist, and to make their emotions understandable. Animals is a cocktail of a formally strange film and a psychological thriller.

Are you already contemplating your next projects?
This year, I would like to make a documentary, and I am also writing a fiction feature. Regarding the first project, we intend to invent a new genre, the adventure documentary, about Piotr Chmielinski, the first man to travel the whole length of the Amazon by kayak in 1985, as well as the deepest canyon in the world, the Colca Canyon in Peru, in 1981. We want to talk about him but also about the times he lived in. Maybe next year, I will also manage to make a fiction feature about Polish poet Krzysztof Kamil Baczynski, whose poetry was hugely influential despite the fact that he died very young, during the Warsaw Uprising.

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