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Małgorzata Goliszewska and Katarzyna Mateja • Directors of Lessons of Love

“This story is universal enough to make a difference in people’s lives”


- Cineuropa talked to Małgorzata Goliszewska and Katarzyna Mateja, the directors of Lessons of Love, about the power of change

Małgorzata Goliszewska and Katarzyna Mateja  • Directors of Lessons of Love
Directors Małgorzata Goliszewska and Katarzyna Mateja with their protagonist, Jola (centre), at the world premiere of the film at IDFA

In their IceDocs-screened documentary Lessons of Love [+see also:
film review
interview: Małgorzata Goliszewska and …
film profile
, Polish directors Małgorzata Goliszewska and Katarzyna Mateja show a woman ready for a personal revolution at the age of 69. The protagonist, Jola, is getting to the point where, just like Jane Fonda, she sees her past and she sees a future – feeling it’s going to be a good one.

Cineuropa: You met Jola at a dancing club for seniors. But why did you decide to put her in front of the camera, since all of the changes here are happening live?
Małgorzata Goliszewska:
This is how you start making an observational documentary – we know why we want to follow someone, but we don’t know what will come out of it. Jola admitted that her first cancer surgery, shortly after the death of her mother, was revelatory – she realised that her husband wasn’t interested in her at all, didn’t care about her health. She said that under different circumstances, she might not have agreed to the film. But at that moment, she needed a change, and she needed to do something for herself. Our movie helped – it gave her that push.

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Katarzyna Mateja: Convincing Jola was not a problem, but with time, she became even more open to changes, and to us. We went through many situations, and in the end, it brought us very close: we were able to endure more in increasingly difficult conditions. Her life and our film became intertwined: we influenced her, and Jola influenced us.

Were you surprised by her honesty, or the honesty of her friends? For their generation, there were things you simply didn’t talk about: domestic violence being one of them.
All of the characters in this movie were honest with us. The seniors, in particular, approached violence in a humorous way, even though most of them had experienced it at first hand. They tried to “laugh it off” a little. It wasn’t a taboo.

MG: Jola has an amazing relationship with her friends, and there is nothing she wouldn’t discuss. She made an anecdote out of her life, and maybe that was her way of dealing with the violence – no wonder, as the things she experienced were almost grotesque. But we wanted something more than these anecdotes: we wanted true emotions. It was a difficult process, but her singing lessons helped us a lot.

It’s true – the more she sings, the more she opens up, also in her new relationship.
These lessons became therapeutic. Jola began to learn about her emotions and to analyse situations that had happened to her, but she also learned how to listen. At least that’s my impression. Previously, other people weren’t able to reach her.

MG: Her singing teacher kept baffling her. She demanded authenticity. Then it turned out that she knew exactly what observational documentary was all about – she had already participated in one before! It was a huge gift.

I assume that instead of observing, sometimes you want to interfere – like when Jola’s husband is cruelly berating her. How do you deal with such situations?
We can always stop if we feel that someone is being hurt. Sure, such scenes aren’t easy to film. But let’s just look at today’s reality or the challenging times we live in.

MG: If you want to make an honest documentary, you shouldn’t interfere, but if Jola were in danger, we would stop and help her out. She is more important. But we felt that our presence was already kind of a safeguard, and our film was never intended to shock with depictions of violence; we just needed to imply what had been in her life for 45 years. Also, who am I to meddle? It’s their relationship. I just want to tell this story.

Jola enjoyed being filmed. Maybe it was a dream come true, to be in the spotlight? But did you ever feel she was “acting”?
Jola wasn’t just acting in front of the camera – Jola was acting all the time. Usually, the problem you face as a director is that someone changes once the camera is rolling. But with Jola, we wanted her to be authentic during filming, as she wouldn’t do so in her everyday life.

KM: She was playing the role of Jola as if there were a spectacle going on, always on stage. There were so many protective mechanisms involved. Jola couldn’t be alone with herself or her thoughts. She is constantly on the move, doesn’t wash off her makeup and is always ready – maybe to escape? She told us about her mother, and I think that’s where she got this idea of being a “lady”, a woman who charms everyone around her.

MG: It was rare to see Jola without makeup. I gave up at one point, but then life interfered. When she went for surgery, she had to wash it off. Although before [her partner] Wojtek came to visit, she still managed to paint her eyelashes. I don’t know how she did it.

In one scene, she admits that no one hugged her as a child, so she didn’t hug her children either. There is so much we pass on, from generation to generation.
I really hope that anyone who has experienced violence or loneliness can identify with this film and see that there is a way out. Maybe I’m expecting too much, but I definitely identify with Jola, although I haven’t experienced any physical violence in a relationship.

KM: She is an inspiration. I think that our viewers, and people of Jola’s age, will be able to see that they have the power to change something. Actually, these changes are already taking place! We believe this story is universal enough to make a difference in people’s lives.

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