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TRIESTE 2018

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Maciej Sobieszczański • Director

The Reconciliation is also an analysis of violence”

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- Maciej Sobieszczański discusses his ambitious film, The Reconciliation, now screening at Trieste, and explains why his WWII drama is a very contemporary tale

Maciej Sobieszczański • Director
(© Wojtek Rojek)

Named the best director at Montreal Film Festival, Maciej Sobieszczański discusses his ambitious film, The Reconciliation [+see also:
trailer
interview: Maciej Sobieszczański
film profile
]
, now screening at the Trieste Film Festival, and explains why his WWII drama is a very contemporary tale.

Cineuropa: In 2015 you co-directed The Performer [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
with Łukasz Ronduda, which was set in the contemporary art world. The Reconciliation has a radically different theme, genre and storytelling style. It revolves around three friends: Polish, Silesian and German, who meet in Zgoda labour camp just as WWII ends.
Maciej Sobieszczański: The Performer was in a way “a stop” on the way to making The Reconciliation. I started working on my own film in 2007. And yes, it was in many respects a difficult project to make, simply due to the obligatory, solid historical research. But for me the change of style and genre is important, I would never want to become a director that only makes one type of film. What I am interested in is a story that allures me, that will be an adventure and, at the same time, will allow me to confront a particular issue or process. In order to be a film director, you need to be strong and stubborn, and have the conviction to take the demanding road. And by “conviction” I mean an inner, unconscious need to communicate with the world. That’s what cinema is to me: a language I use to talk about my deepest emotions.

In The Reconciliation you discover an unknown chapter in Polish history, but I understand you didn’t want it to just be a chronicle.
During the pre-production phase I was often asked if I was making a period film. I disagreed, I didn’t want The Reconciliation to be considered a historical film. I wasn’t trying to make a sort of textbook film about a labour camp in Zgoda, it was always supposed to be a backdrop to my story. I had some very well-prepared historical research, but I only used the facts that served my story. For that reason, I limited the presence of some characters, like Salomon Morel, who was the commandant of the camp. In another words The Reconciliation is a contemporary film, just dressed up in a historical costume. It’s like with Shakespeare’s plays – no one is really interested in the fate of Hamlet or Richard III, it’s the theme of these stories that absorbs us. For me, The Reconciliation is an attempt to understand what is happening in Poland right now. How come society has become so polarised that we often talk about “two Polands.” The protagonists of my film are three friends who are separated by history. I wanted to show what can happen when people focus on what separates them, rather than looking at what they share and have in common. The Reconciliation is also an analysis of violence. It’s also a very timely topic, just think about mobbing or #metoo. At the same time, this subject is neglected, because we often discuss social issues, and not the violence itself. And the truth is, that every action can be a violent one, even sex, which is what I show in my film. 

Speaking of: the carnal aspect is really important in your film. Bodies are subjected to violence, nest aggression, but are also capable of giving love. How did you work with young actors: Julian Świeżewski, Zofia Wichłacz and Jakub Gierszał, who embodied people going through extreme situations?
When I started working with the actors, I understood that I needed to reject a psychological perspective and take a behavioural one. It was the right tool to “open” my characters. They were living in a world that no one could fully grasp, a world ruled by instincts, where any attempt at intellectual analysis is faulty. Like in the scene in which Erwin tries to save Anna: he thinks too much and therefore fails.

I auditioned 2,500 people and I instantly rejected actors who did too much “acting.” I know that it’s a difficult task not to “act,” because the last thing you should be taking away from your actors are their psychological tools. Nevertheless, I asked my cast to trust me and to believe that this sort of simplicity of means does in fact bring sophistication. I think that it’s also the best way to talk about that specific period of time, and about people who lived then. Usually, when I watch Schindler’s List, Sophie’s choice or A Passenger (Pasażerka, directed by Andrzej Munk), and these are really great films, I can tell that there’s a lot of “acting” and it really bothers me.

You named some famous WWII films, while critics often compare your film to Son of Saul [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
Q&A: László Nemes
interview: László Rajk
film profile
]
. I wonder what type of film is really close to your heart?
I’ve watched a lot of films since I was a child, I still do. I need to be au courant with cinema, especially because I teach at the Film School in Łódź and Wajda School in Warsaw. My cinematic taste was shaped with time. I was introduced to Michael Haneke’s films when I was already a mature man. Thanks to him I understood what cinema is about. When I was making The Reconciliation, I had his film Hidden in mind. It’s a contemporary story, that brings back the relatively unknown events of French history: in 1961 protesting Algerians were thrown in the river Seine and drowned. Haneke shows the consequences of the concealment of those events. How a society that doesn’t confront its own past is weaker, worse off. At the same time, Haneke doesn’t moralise or admonish in anyway, he just wants to talk about an issue. That approach is really close to me, because cinema is very expensive, my modest film cost €1,000,000. I don’t think you should turn that machine on just for fun.

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