Hana Nobis • Director of Polish Prayers
“The first time I saw Antek, I thought he had a face for filming; I liked the way he moved”
- The Polish filmmaker spoke to us about her first feature, which portrays her home country, its contrasts and the lack of communication between communities
Polish Prayers [+see also:
interview: Hana Nobis
film profile] talks about the titular country, its contrasts and the lack of communication between communities from the perspective of Antek, a young, far-right partisan who gradually begins to question the principles he has always firmly believed in. We talked to Hana Nobis, the director of this IDFA-screened film.
Cineuropa: Where did you find Antek, the main protagonist of your film, and how did you manage to establish such a degree of intimacy with him?
Hana Nobis: Antek watched the material many times during the process of making the film, and I often asked him for his opinion. We were in the same boat and did a lot to make the movie possible. I met him for the first time at a boys’ survival camp in Ukraine. At that time, we had already been filming for one year, and I had been present at many other Brotherhood events. During the camp, the other members told me he had been having some difficulties in his private life, and that interested me. The first time I saw him, I thought he had a face for filming; I liked the way he moved, and he wasn’t ashamed of being on camera. My DoP [Milosz Kasiura] and I thought it would be a good idea to invest in him. He was different from the other guys; he was very truthful. We were very patient, as we really filmed a lot before deciding how to tell the story. It took me five years to make the movie. Even if Antek was in control and sometimes didn’t like the order or the timeline of the movie, he admitted that the whole thing was truthful.
Antek’s story is a pure roller-coaster. Could you envisage such a life change happening, and how did you deal with it? How did it shape the form of your film?
I knew from the start that there would be a change in his life, but not one that would be that drastic or visible. He wanted to talk to me because he had some things he could not discuss with anyone else. He was very empathic from the start, truthful and more fragile than the other boys – so fragile that he could die. I witnessed that; I felt his emotion. He changed, but he is still very radical and different; he’s like a sponge. Especially at the beginning, Antek was a bit like a knight – those guys who learn how to behave with females, who have to be brave and what have you. My idea was to find the true knight behind the armour, a knight I could believe in.
How were you perceived, as a woman within the (almost) all-male group you chose to film?
Having a woman like me in their group was new for them, as it brought a new energy, creating the kinds of contrasts I was searching for in the film. Some people even suggested that I film my relationship with the boys because it was very interesting, but I didn’t want to, as that was not my goal. I was there to have a discussion with them, which was an attitude that some people around me perceived as naïve or a waste of time. In fact, my goal wasn’t to change them; that’s impossible. What I wanted was to change my own perception, to try to understand their lives better instead of simply judging them. Poland is quite a complicated place right now; we have a conservative government that makes coexistence between people of different mentalities impossible. My desire is to live in a country where I can have a discussion with anyone; I don’t want to be like many leftists who simplistically consider conservative people to be trash. I want to live in a country where people respect each other. I don’t know how they took my presence, but what I can say is that I was really stubborn, and above all, I had good intentions. Besides how you look, whether you are a girl or a boy, it’s a question of intentions: you cannot lie about your intentions.
Aesthetically, Polish Prayers is very precise and refined. What were your artistic references?
In documentaries, you can’t ask your protagonists to repeat something – it’s impossible. You can only watch them and what they are proposing. I was looking for a DoP who could get really close to the protagonists. I wanted to see how relationships form in such a patriarchal world. If we observe them from the outside, from a totally different perspective, it’s really easy to laugh at them, their beliefs and their behaviour. To avoid that, it was necessary to stay close to the protagonists and not simply be cynical. I definitely didn’t want to approach them from a distance, like a visitor at a zoo. Then, when I finally met Antek, I knew we needed to film like we were making a fiction feature. As for my references, I’d like to mention Chloé Zhao and The Rider.
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