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VENICE 2022 Orizzonti

Damian Kocur • Director of Bread and Salt

“Cinema for me is not recounting events or telling a story; it happens on an emotional level”


- VENICE 2022: Cineuropa chatted with the Polish director, whose stellar debut feature explores what violence is and what it means to participate in it

Damian Kocur • Director of Bread and Salt
(© La Biennale di Venezia/Foto ASAC/G Zucchiatti)

Damian Kocur’s feature debut, Bread and Salt [+see also:
film review
interview: Damian Kocur
film profile
, has been hotly anticipated in his native Poland. The director won numerous awards for his short films, in which he used his favourite artistic strategy of blending reality with fiction. Bread and Salt celebrated its world premiere in the Venice Film Festival’s Orizzonti section, winning the Special Jury Prize to boot (see the news), and is now participating in the Main Competition at the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia.

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Cineuropa: Your film relies heavily on the great performances of non-professional actors Tymoteusz and Jacek Bies. How did you find them?
Damian Kocur:
I’ve known them since I was a kid. We grew up in the same town.

In your previous works, you would often blend fact with fiction.
Generally speaking, yes. It’s a broad subject for me, and I’m writing my doctoral dissertation about it. I often take a character from real life and invent a fictional story for them.

What is real here, then?
The relationship between the brothers and the fact that they’re both pianists.

How did the story originate?
A few years ago, in Ełk [a small city in Northern Poland], a similar accident happened at a local kebab bar. That was the starting point for me.

Tymek is not how we would imagine a pianist to be – he plays Chopin by day and drinks beer with his mates at a kebab joint by night.
I thought that classical music in the context of that residential area would be an interesting counterpoint. Tymek plays classical music but also raps and has a tattoo that says, “Fuck the police.” It’s a stereotype that pianists drink tea from porcelain cups and are conventional. Tymek and his generation of musicians are different.

What was the key theme for you in this film?
What violence is and what participating in it looks like.

In your movie, the violence is announced in the opening titles not by harsh images, but by some disturbing sounds and unsettling tunes.
Cinema is an audiovisual art, so I used sound in a planned and deliberate manner. Sound is part of the narrative; it’s a means of expression. It creates emotions, just like images. And even though seemingly nothing happens, at the same time, there is a feeling of unease that’s introduced by the sound and the images, because there are some elements in slow motion.

The camera and its motion, or lack thereof, is significant – like in the bus scene. The camera doesn’t move; it just changes focus to tell the audience what is important in the scene.
It is a still observer, like the audience in the movie theatre: they can follow the scene in any way they choose and change what they are focusing on. Cristi Puiu often does that in his works, and for me, it’s a sign of respect for the audience. The audience should experience the film not only on an informational level.

The film feels very personal and tangible, even. The audience can immerse themselves in your movie as the tension creeps in.
It’s like in Gus Van Sant’s Elephant – you know something bad is going to happen, but you don’t feel like you don’t want to watch the rest of the film. In Bread and Salt, it’s not about a criminal puzzle; I could just as easily have shown the crime at the beginning of the film and then present how it happened. But it wouldn’t make sense to me. Cinema for me is not recounting events or telling a story; it happens on an emotional level.

Tymek is drawn to Yousef, who works at the kebab joint. It doesn’t feel like sexual attraction; more like a fascination with the “other” and “otherness”.
I think that in Poland, we are barely interested in people who represent other cultures. We don’t know anything about them or their traditions. It’s like a class system, in which they belong to the lowest caste. We don’t care about them, as long as they work while keeping themselves to themselves, deliver our food or serve us. I think in bigger cities, it has changed a bit, but not so much in rural Poland, where there are fewer immigrants.

In Poland, when we say that we give someone “bread and salt”, it means they’re a welcome guest. It seems like your film argues against this tradition.
The title is not exactly ironic, but it shows how that idiom can lose its meaning and become abstract. It was interesting to discover that Arab culture has that exact same saying, but it has a completely different meaning.

Speaking of stereotypes, do you feel like a “Polish” or a “young” director?
Neither. I don’t feel like a young or a Polish director, because I make something very different from my colleagues. What interests me in cinema is not telling the same stories, or the same stories but a bit differently. I’m interested in being an auteur in cinema.

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