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Anka and Wilhelm Sasnal • Directors

“‘Ignorant’ is the right word to describe a large part of our society”

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- Cineuropa met up with Polish directorial duo Anka and Wilhelm Sasnal at Crossing Europe, where they had a tribute dedicated to them and also screened their latest feature

Anka and Wilhelm Sasnal  • Directors
(© Paweł Przywara)

Polish husband-and-wife directing team Anka and Wilhelm Sasnal were thrust into the limelight at this year’s Crossing Europe Film Festival, where they had a tribute and wide-ranging retrospective dedicated to them. They also screened their latest joint feature, The Sun, the Sun Blinded Me [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Anka and Wilhelm Sasnal
film profile
]
, which was inspired by Albert Camus’ The Stranger and Hans Christian Andersen’s The Shadow. We had a chat with them to delve deeper into their career and working dynamic, and explore the influence of Polish right-wing politics on their latest movie, which revolves around a largely passive character who perpetrates an unprovoked and unforgivable crime against an immigrant.

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Cineuropa: You are both still fairly young directors – how does it feel to have a tribute dedicated to you already at such a prominent festival?
Wilhelm Sasnal:
Of course it feels good! But honestly, once we have an occasion to show the films to people, it’s great, and I think we’re happier about this than about being “honoured”. What does “honoured” mean, anyway?

Anka Sasnal:
It’s quite a surprise because in Poland, people don’t dedicate tributes to people as much in our field – it happens more with artists. So it’s really nice. It’s been interesting for me because I watched our previous film It Looks Pretty from a Distance, and it was really strange because I hadn’t seen it in years. Watching it back, I thought we should reedit it and change the last scene!

WS:
And going right back to the short films, it’s us and our children who appear in those, so in a way it’s a kind of memoir or diary. I can’t watch them in any other way than as a husband and the father of these kids, so I became very sentimental watching them.

If there is a common thread linking your first three features, what would you say it is?
AS:
A recurring motif in our features is the figure of the stranger, so in that they have something in common. There’s also the relationship between the individual and society, and the stranger in society.

WS:
The other common thread is the importance of history, as they all refer in an indirect way to the history of Poland.

AS:
 Yes, Polish society, Polish history…

WS:
But also what we’ve realised here, at this festival of European films, is that our movies have quite a European background. What I think is important is not to distinguish history from the present day – it has a continuity and an influence on our life these days. 

This is your third feature as a directorial duo – is it always a harmonious professional relationship? Have you found a comfortable working dynamic, coming from different artistic backgrounds?
WS: It’s not that we emphasise particular visual or textual aspects. But it’s a difficult time for us being a couple because often we can’t come up with so many ideas for editing or ideas on set. Sometimes you want to force through different ideas or ways to make the film.

AS:
But we try to share this responsibility. We make up a story together, although I’m much more responsible for writing and developing the script…

WS:
 And I’m fine with that – I like it that way. But I think the problem is that the further down the line we go, the more difficult it becomes to collaborate. Very often, at the final stage in terms of editing the film, there is definitely room for arguments!

AS:
 And especially because the editing takes so much time – for example, with Parasite [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, it took us one year, and that was a really tough year for us.

WS:
 I find it a big relief when the film is done, because in a way, the burden of filmmaking is over and now we have this open landscape in front of us to start a new one. Another problem with being a couple both privately and professionally is that we transfer the emotions from our professional life into our private life – our kids don’t like it when we start working.

AS:
 But we’re still going to make a new film!

Speaking of which, do you already have a new project in mind? Will it be another literary adaptation?
WS: We do, but we don’t yet know exactly what it will be.

AS:
 We’d like to do something completely different and new. We’ll still use our film language, but I would like to put some kind of theatrical form into the film.

WS:
I’m not very into theatre, but we will see. Our first idea was to tell a story from different points of view, like a cubist novel. It’s still very open. Actually, The Sun… is not an adaptation, as we were only inspired by The Stranger. But maybe we’d like to stay closer to a text for the next one. We’re thinking about some Polish writers who we like, and we get the feeling it might be worth making a film of one of their novels. 

Did the current right-wing political situation in Poland and the rise of the Law and Justice Party have an impact on the film?
WS: You can’t stay indifferent. I don’t believe we can make any big changes with our films, but they’re useful just to offload these negative emotions that you feel. And these negative emotions and factors are what drive us – that’s the pivotal aspect of our work.

AS:
 We expected this film to spark a discussion not only about the movie, but also about the problem with our generation, our egotism and this whole situation – but it didn’t. We’ve had some very interesting discussions, but not in Poland. In Switzerland, at Locarno, for example, we had some useful debates, but people are not interested in this problem in Poland. They don’t stop to think about it.

WS:
 “Ignorance” is a word we haven’t used so far, but I think ignorance is somehow equal to stupidity. I think that’s the right word to describe a large part of our society. They are ignorant, and they fight others who try to be caring, labelling them as naïve. At least in Poland, when we were teenagers, it was shameful to admit you were a nationalist. Maybe it’s part of the culture. The whole skinhead scene was very understated and didn’t really have any traction – it was uncool to be a nationalist. But now, amongst students, you see people wearing T-shirts with “white pride” scrawled on them and so on. This is what makes us so sceptical about the future.

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