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COTTBUS 2021 Connecting Cottbus

Agnieszka Zwiefka • Director of She

“Our character kept saying yes all her life, and then, for the first time, she says no”


- The Polish director gives us the low-down on her upcoming film, which was given the Best Pitch Award at the recently concluded connecting cottbus

Agnieszka Zwiefka • Director of She

Known for Scars [+see also:
film review
interview: Agnieszka Zwiefka
film profile
and The Queen of Silence [+see also:
film profile
– and currently developing WIKA! – Poland’s Agnieszka Zwiefka will move from documentary to fiction with She, focusing on a woman who is done silently accepting whatever comes her way. The project, granted development support by the Polish Film Institute, will be produced by Izabela Igel, of Harine Films, with co-producer Heino Deckert also attached. She, which won the Best Pitch Award at the recently concluded connecting cottbus (see the news), is written by Zwiefka and Jowita Budnik, also tapped to play the lead.

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Cineuropa: It’s always curious when someone decides to talk about more mature women. You are also working on a documentary about Poland’s oldest female DJ, so did these two stories collide, in a way?
Agnieszka Zwiefka
: I guess, although these are different age groups – in She, my protagonist is in her fifties. There comes a moment when women start feeling invisible, as citizens as well, because some go out to protest and still feel like no one can see them. When we look at the roles available for actresses of Jowita’s age, there is not that much to choose from: you can play somebody’s aunt, who serves dinner. That’s why Kate Winslet decided to executive-produce Mare of Easttown. She could finally play someone her age, with a bit of a belly and all those “imperfections” – a character that feels real, as opposed to yet another plastic doll.

There is something about us, Polish women, that makes us believe we should just accept everything. Our character kept saying “yes” all her life. Yes – I will stay at work a bit longer, I will take care of somebody else’s child. And then, for the first time, she says no. She is done playing nice. Jane Fonda said that only recently did she finally understand that “no” is a full sentence [laughs].

We keep hearing about this late-life rebellion more and more. So many women, once they have done everything they were “supposed” to do in life, feel free.
It all happens gradually, of course, but there is that flashpoint moment in the film, that proverbial last straw. At the beginning, she keeps on apologising: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Then she stops and takes some radical steps instead. She is frustrated by her invisibility, by the fact that she has been erased: even motion-detecting lamps don’t turn on when she walks by. As a safety inspector, she has been following rules all her life. She is the “sorry-thank you-please” kind of woman. At first, she is just trying to save one tree – it’s hardly some big revolution. She is trying to do it by the book, but nobody cares about her pleas. We used to talk about this word: my producer Iza Igel calls it “awakeness”. She wakes up, realising she can’t keep on apologising for being alive.

People fighting for trees, or the environment in general, are still viewed as crazy in so many communities.
The topic of ecology is very important to us, so it’s something we certainly wanted to touch upon. But also, we just wanted her fight to be about something personal and small. It’s a tree – the local authorities could easily have listened to what she has to say about it. Also, I think there is something inherently feminine about trees. They give life, symbolise so much and, at the same time, feel close to us.

It’s rather unusual to co-write with your future lead. Is it harder? It’s not like you will present her with a character later on; she is co-creating this woman already.
I actually think it’s much easier. I keep joking that I won’t have to direct so much in the end – Jowita is already carrying that character within her. She is a wonderful actress who can express so much by doing very little – sometimes, it’s just one facial expression. I really think that actors have an ear for dialogues. They can spot falseness a mile off.

You have so far been a documentary filmmaker, so why the decision to try something new? Even though it’s true that you always talk about women.
I always talk about women, women who are marginalised in some way. They are excluded. Frankly, I believe there is no difference between documentary and fiction. I know how much of what ends up on the screen is staged. In my films, I am not even trying to hide it – I call WIKA! a “documentary musical”. I think I’ve always had one foot in fiction. Now, I am just adding the second.

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