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Lech Majewski • Director

"I’m against enforcing the behaviourist approach on film”


- We met with Polish filmmaker Lech Majewski to talk about his new film Field of Dogs, inspired by Dante and rich in symbols and visuals

Lech Majewski  • Director

Field of Dogs [+see also:
film review
interview: Lech Majewski
film profile
, inspired by Dante, is the last in Polish director Lech Majewski’s trilogy on the great works of great classic writers (preceeded by The Mill and the Cross [+see also:
film review
making of
interview: Lech Majewski
film profile
, based on Brughel’s painting The Procession to Calvary and The Garden of Earthly Delights, based on the work by Hieronymus Bosch).

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Cineuropa: Field of Dogs makes strong reference to Dante’s Divine Comedy, but also refers to recent historic events. What was there first?
Lech Majewski: The two sort of came together. I had wanted to make a film on The Divine Comedy for a long time. It’s a work that throws up a forest of images that you can’t cross without coming out the other side injured, but which you’ll never forget. These images, which came to me regularly in my dreams, then became reality with the tragic events of 2010. Then, at the beginning of this year I received a sort of sign. I saw the image of a field in the south of Poland, with rows of concrete utility poles completely covered in frost and so beaten out of shape by the wind that they had become truly distorted. This sign was like the prologue of the film for me.

One of the characteristic traits of your films is their heavy use of symbols. Does this divide audiences?
I know, audiences are wary because they don’t completely understand them. But they need not worry! I myself am not even able to decipher all of them. The images and symbols come to me, and I insert them into my films instinctively, sometimes without trying to understand them. I leave some things to the imagination, unexplained. And I’m not trying to flatter audiences when I say that I think the viewer is the co-director of the film: they’re always seeing new things and it’s them that I can really learn from.

How do you go about casting a film? Do you already have certain actors in mind when the concept is born?
No, never. We organise castings but I never go. We ask the actors to do something specific and sometimes they don’t even have anything to say. They’re filmed from the moment they enter the room and I watch the footage afterwards, on my computer. This allows me to see how they use the space and the effect the space has on them. It also means that I can see how they look on screen, without interference from the impressions I would get if I were to meet them in person.

You like unknown faces, actors who are just starting out.
Yes, I love finding faces that nobody has ever seen on a screen for my films. I like casting people who have never been in films in my lead roles.

Turning to filming, do you leave room for chance, the unexpected?
Of course. It’s perhaps the most important thing I look for to a certain extent. I’ve been saying that I don’t make my films alone for a long time now. There’s a kind of supreme force and, if it likes what it sees, adds something to the mix in a way that is completely unexpected, sudden and violent. You can either seize that moment and use it or lose it. In Field of Dogs for example, there’s a scene in the forest where the characters stand for a rather long time under the trees, without moving, without making the slightest movement. And just as the camera pans slowly upwards to the top of the trees, a strong gust of wind starts blowing them, as if the trees are really trying to speak and express themselves.

You use a lot of new numerical technology and special effects. Could you do without these tools now?
No, not really, as they’re essential for portraying the unreal, which is what fills my mind on a daily basis. Without them it would be impossible to construct certain visuals, like those in Field of Dogs for example: a huge waterfall in a cathedral, two cows laying the flooring of a supermarket etc. 

Sartre once said that surrealism is reality, but the reality of a higher plane, total reality. Do you agree? After all, your films always explicitly refer to surrealism.
Yes, I like that a lot! I actually do consider myself to be a true realist. I’m against the behaviourist approach to humans and enforcing this approach on film. The current essential element of film, what seems to be the most important thing, is to show action, what a character does and says. But human beings are not an external projection, they are incredibly complex. We are a true mix of delusion, imagination, will and desire, dreams and postcards which fill our heads. We have an extremely complicated nature and that’s how I want to portray human beings.

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(Translated from French)

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