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Kristoffer Rus • Director of Too Old for Fairy Tales

"'Honesty' was actually our key word when it came to directing, cinematography and overall choices during production"


- The director of the Polish Netflix hit told us about his cinephilic background, making films for young audiences and working with actors

Kristoffer Rus • Director of Too Old for Fairy Tales

Cineuropa sat down with Kristoffer Rus, who lives and works in Poland, and whose film Too Old For Fairy Tales [+see also:
interview: Kristoffer Rus
film profile
, originally released in local cinemas in March, topped the most-watched non-English language productions list on Netflix (read more) from 18 to 24 July.

Cineuropa: Your film Too Old For Fairy Tales is now on Netflix, and became a non-English language international hit. The main protagonist, Waldi, is just like the title says, too old to watch films for kids. What were you watching when you were his age?
Kristoffer Rus: When I was Waldi’s age, the films that made the biggest impact on me were actually coming of age stories that I could in some way relate to. Films like Dead Poet’s Society by Peter Weir, and films about my biggest passion back then, skateboarding – Thrashin’ by David Winters, starring a very young Josh Brolin as a maverick skateboarder. And of course The Goonies based on a story by Steven Spielberg, where you think it’s about treasure hunting, but it’s really about bigger life questions in a young person’s life.

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It was one of my favourite films, too. This bunch of kids was treasure hunting, if I remember correctly. Their escapades were happening in real life so to speak, as opposed to Waldi’s and his pal – they have adventures in the gaming world. They’re very good at it, they even take part in tournaments.
I think that the virtual world that shuts people at homes and cuts them from reality is not healthy and can be addictive. But in case of our protagonist, it’s not like this at all. His two worlds are connected, and that’s good. Initially, his eccentric aunt who comes to take care of him for a few days wants Waldek to quit gaming and start biking and be more outdoors in general. But as the story progresses, she understands that games are the boy’s passion, and she sees that he meets with people in reality and connects with them. Then she starts to support Waldi’s gaming.

At the beginning Waldi doesn’t understand her either. For a grown-up audience she is a free spirit, trying to lead a healthy and interesting life.
Waldi thinks she is completely crazy and creepy. When he sees that she suspends herself from the ceiling to exercise “flying,” he cuts one of her ropes to metaphorically cut her wings. But in the end, they start to understand each other’s passions and can make their dreams real. 

All if this is happening while Waldi’s real mother is getting treatment in hospital. These two women have very different approaches to Waldi.
It’s actually the point of the film. On the one hand we have an overprotective mother, who is afraid that because of her illness her son won’t be protected. So, she wants to give him everything, but that attitude actually hurts Waldi. On the other hand, aunt Mariolka turns his world upside down and gives him duties, cuts out excessive sugar and so on. At first, she is an antagonist of the story, but that changes and what she teaches Waldi proves beneficial. The boy is 12 and like in every coming-of-age film, you have to hit the mark when that change happens in the character’s life.

There are actually not a lot of interesting films for an audience this age.
I know that very well because we have three daughters: 16, 13 and 7 years old. And when we are looking for a film that we can watch together and which is worthy and can inspire a discussion, it’s a very tough task. In Polish cinema it’s even tougher.  That's why I wanted to make a film for my kids. I strongly believe that if you make a film for a specific person, you’ll probably hit something universal, something human and therefore reach a big audience.

You worked here with established actors, Dorota Kolak, Andrzej Grabowski and Karolina Gruszka, and a young cast. How was it?
Well, I don’t have much experience when it comes to directing kids, and when I met with adult and very experienced actors, we established a particular form of acting. We wanted the film to be larger than life, but soon we had to check that. We were looking for a boy to play Waldi everywhere, and what made it more difficult was that he had to meet a certain physical criterion. Interestingly, Maciek Karas whom we cast is a neighbour of scriptwriter Agnieszka Dąbrowska. He was a natural born Waldi, and in front of the camera he wasn’t acting, he was just being himself. After the first day of shooting Dorota Kolak approached me and said that we need to give up a style we came up with and try to adjust to Maciek. Further work was something between acting and just being on the screen, so it’s maybe not a super realistic film but it is honest. “Honesty” was actually our key word when it came to directing, cinematography and overall choices during production.

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