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Urszula Antoniak • Director

“Tabula rasa. I don’t want to explain complex human motives”


- An interview with Netherlands-based, Polish-born director Urszula Antoniak, whose debut feature was named the Best Debut at Locarno and Best Dutch Film of 2009

Urszula  Antoniak • Director

Cineuropa: How would you describe the protagonists?
Urszula Antoniak: Both characters are tabula rasa. We know nothing about their past or motivations. I dislike films that try to explain complex human motives by implying "psychology of character". In real life we guess rather than know what moves people to do what they do. Nothing Personal [+see also:
film review
interview: Urszula Antoniak
interview: Urszula Antoniak
film profile
resembles a real-life situation of meeting a stranger and goes to the extreme while following a character who steadfastly refuses to open towards the other person, yet melts while spending time in his presence.

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Weren’t you afraid that the audience might find it hard to relate to someone they know so little about?
How much do we need to know about a person to trust and empathise with him or her? This is the basic question of my film, which is about human relationships on a very basic level. In a Hollywood movie we would know her motivations and thus understand and empathise with her. I didn’t want to manipulate the audience in such way but to challenge them.

Would you say that the fact that you are a woman has influenced your film?
Being a woman director I’m naturally drawn towards strong female protagonists and dislike presenting women as victims. Lotte in the film is a person who is active rather than passive, who chooses solitude but is not pitiful. I wanted to create a character of a rebel - who is usually male - and give it a woman’s face.

How was your collaboration with young Daniël Bouquet, whose cinematography is a very big factor in creating the right atmosphere?
Daniel is a perfect cameraman because he encourages directors to take risk and chances. I was lucky to meet and work with him, although initially I was a bit scared to work with someone I didn’t know. But it worked out. He has excellent taste not spoiled by commercials or video clips.

To what extent do you feel Nothing Personal is a Dutch, an Irish, a Polish and a European movie?
As an emigrant I’m naturally handling stories that are universal. Nothing Personal is a European arthouse movie. It is a film that dares to challenge the audience and at the same time it’s made out of an urgency of the maker, who wants to share something important.

What do you think are “typical” Antoniak themes we can find in this film, that you are likely to explore in future work?
Irony rooted in Mitteleuropean tradition, though more a question of tone than theme. For me irony is the spice of life and its greatest wisdom. I feel I belong to the tradition of Mitteleuropa that mixed Jewish, Slavic and German influences. Think Kafka, Musil, but also Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch, who’ve spiced Hollywood movies with this typical ironic touch.

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