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Andrzej Jakimowski • Director

“The citizens of Warsaw are the best audience for the film”


- Polish director Andrzej Jakimowski explains why he shows a different side of Warsaw in Once Upon a Time in November, which had its world premiere at the Warsaw Film Festival

Andrzej Jakimowski  • Director
(© Rafał Nowak)

At the 33rd Warsaw Film Festival, we sat down with Polish director Andrzej Jakimowski to find out more about his feature Once Upon a Time in November [+see also:
interview: Andrzej Jakimowski
film profile
, which had the honour of world-premiering as the opening film of the prestigious gathering this year.

Cineuropa: Once Upon a Time in November depicts Warsaw in a way that Polish cinema rarely does. 
Andrzej Jakimowski:
 We show Warsaw during the Polish National Independence Day, on 11 November. In 2013, the group that identifies itself as nationalists prepared a large demonstration, which turned into riots, during which one of Warsaw’s squats was attacked. The assault was brutal and almost resulted in the building being burned down. The people living there were trapped and had no way out. It just so happened that I was walking around the streets of Warsaw because I was preparing another film project, and I recorded these events in a documentary-like way. Soon I realised that these scenes had a deeper meaning: they said a lot about contemporary Poland and contemporary Europe. In many countries, the nationalistic movements are growing and rearing their heads, and the film depicts the violent aspect of that phenomenon. In Once Upon a Time… I present two characters who were in the squat during the 2013 attack, and I explain how they got there. Also, I show a part of everyday life in Warsaw that is rarely presented in Polish cinema.

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You portray homeless people who were evicted from their flats, and now they’re loitering around allotments. This documentary layer of the film is very moving. Are your characters based on real people?
You will not find a lot of fiction in my film. Many plot points are taken from reality. For example, the character of Mommy is based on an actual person who gave up her bed in a shelter because she didn’t want to leave her dog, and animals are not allowed in the facility. The dog was actually homeless as well; she took it from the street. That is the essence of the drama – the film depicts how certain values come into conflict.

The dog you mention, Koleś, is an important “character” in the movie. 
During the nationalist demonstrations, Marky is looking for the dog in a crowd. This canine character enables the viewer to look at the events from an unexpected perspective. Koleś brings some distance and a little humour. Also, the way dogs are treated by society is a measure of its morality. Thanks to Koleś’ presence, Marky begins to understand that there may be more important issues at play than his own personal interests.

It’s clear that Once Upon a Time in November has a slightly darker tone than your previous films Imagine [+see also:
film profile
and Tricks [+see also:
film review
interview: Andrzej Jakimowski
interview: Tomasz Gąssowski
film profile
In this film, you will find something of a warm tone, which is brought by the protagonists. We tell this particular story with a little distance, without too much psychology, because that’s a convention I need to match the documentary footage. The poetics we use are focused on character observation and the reality they live in. We present a clash of attitudes and emotions.

The film had its world premiere at the Warsaw Film Festival. Was this significant?
It was important for me to show Once Upon a Time in November in Warsaw because of its subject matter. The citizens of the city are the best audience for the film. Some of them took part in or witnessed the events I show on screen. I want to know their opinion.

What is the feedback you have been getting from the Warsaw audience? 
What seems to evoke the strongest emotions is the subject of nationalism. Many viewers are shocked by the film, and after the screenings, I am often approached by people who have tears in their eyes. Some of the viewers have had similar experiences to those of my protagonist. At the last screening, I met a lady who was evicted and then “broke into” her apartment, just like the character I show. That part of the audience is both shocked and touched that I have shown a situation they know so well from a perspective that has never been adopted before. I also encounter many questions related to fascism and “antifa” [the anti-fascist movement], as they are presented in the film. 

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