Łukasz Grzegorzek • Director of My Wonderful Life
“We want to make colourful, juicy films, but equally important is the melancholy that complements the lighter parts”
by Ola Salwa
- The Polish director breaks down his latest dramedy, which gets a worldwide Netflix release on 28 February and recently won the Best Director Award at the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia
Cineuropa sat down with Polish director Łukasz Grzegorzek, whose latest dramedy, My Wonderful Life [+see also:
interview: Łukasz Grzegorzek
film profile], gets a worldwide Netflix release on 28 February. Grzegorzek won the Best Director Award with the movie at the recent Polish Film Festival in Gdynia (see the news). He has a unique style and voice, and his works are often called “Polish Sundance indies” because of their independent spirit and peculiar, sometimes quirky, sense of humour, as well as the way he approaches his characters – with empathy and understanding. In this interview, he explains why.
Cineuropa: My Wonderful Life was filmed in Nysa, a small town in south-western Poland. Why did you choose this location?
Łukasz Grzegorzek: I believe in making sincere films, so I located the story in a town where I grew up. I went to school in the one you can see in the movie, and I lived in the area where the protagonist, Jo, teaches English lessons. The other reason was geographical, so to speak. The story is about a woman who is being judged by a small-town community and tries to live by her own rules. Nysa is in the so-called Recovered Territory, which was added to Poland after World War II. This region is diverse in terms of its ethnicity, culture and religion. There are many Polish people in Nysa; some of them are of Ukrainian descent, like myself. There is a significant German minority and many Czechs. So, growing up in such circumstances formed my character. And while she is looking for a moral compass, she has no strict social norms that she can refer to. She has to look for them within herself.
Do you think that these circumstances moulded you, too?
Yes. Because of its multi-ethnic environment, many people living in Nysa feel like they have no roots. Also, as a teenager, I was a professional tennis player, which meant that I practically lived on tour. And to be honest, I don’t feel I have planted my roots anywhere. And probably because of this, I approach other people’s views and opinions in a gentle manner.
Would you say that your characters share that lack of roots, so to speak?
They are in limbo, but I’d rather leave the critics and the audience to ponder that. Personally, I don’t get attached to places.
But you seem to get attached to people. You have made all of your films with producer Natalia Grzegorzek, who is also your wife, and cinematographer Weronika Bilska. Actors Jacek Braciak and Agata Buzek also starred in your previous film, A Coach’s Daughter [+see also:
I do get attached to people. And yes, I’d been working with Weronika and Natalia from the first draft of the script. It’s a great intellectual adventure, as well as a lesson in consciousness and in understanding that there is more than one way of looking at things. Each of us has a different perspective, and together, we have access to a broader emotional spectrum. I hope that translates to the screen. And as for the actors, I feel that with every new project we do together, I get something extra from them. That’s because we already know each other and we know how to communicate, so the process is quicker. Since I already know what the actors are capable of, I can explore their talents and their souls a little further.
Speaking of actors, Czech musician and poet Jaromír Nohavica plays a small but juicy role in My Wonderful Life. How did this come about?
I like his music and his performance in Petr Zelenka’s Year of the Devil. It’s interesting that Jaromír is a foreigner, but he lives closer to Nysa than to Prague… The charm of Nysa’s multi-ethnicity! We intended My Wonderful Life to be an international co-production, so we applied for foreign subsidies, but we only got through to the final round. And we had already pre-booked artists – like Jaromír – from the countries to which we applied for subsidies. But money wasn’t the only thing we wanted to get internationally; we were hoping to incorporate a slightly different perspective, sense of humour and sensitivity.
Indeed, in your films, a sense of humour is important. How would you describe it?
Well, without humour, the world would be grey, and we want to make colourful, juicy films. But equally, if not more, important is the melancholy that complements the lighter parts. As for my sense of humour, well… It stems from my watching of Monty Python, Saturday Night Live and 1990s TV series from the USA, such as Wings. It is also very Polish, meaning that it’s crude, self-referential and has a hint of the absurd.
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