Małgorzata Szumowska, Michał Englert • Directors of Woman of
“We hope this movie can change something”
- VENICE 2023: The longstanding Polish directorial duo explained how they conducted their research for this film about a trans woman in a small, hostile town
Woman of [+see also:
interview: Małgorzata Szumowska, Micha…
film profile] tells the story of Aniela (Małgorzata Hajewska-Krzysztofik) between 1980 and 2022, and her experience as a trans woman in a small, hostile town. Nevertheless, she is able to count on the hard-earned support of her wife, Iza (Joanna Kulig). Filmmakers Małgorzata Szumowska and Michał Englert sat down with Cineuropa to discuss their responsibility and their mission as they took on this project, the end result of which has screened in competition at Venice.
Cineuropa: You've worked together for what seems like forever. What was different for Woman of?
Michał Englert: I think we were aware of the responsibility we were assuming. That's why we did some very careful research, which gave us an opportunity to meet a lot of wonderful LGBTQ people, who were kind enough to share their stories. We were learning, and we were educating ourselves.
Małgorzata Szumowska: I think we are very honest each time we bring our main characters to the screen. But this time, it was very special because we know that the situation for the trans community in Poland is pretty bad. And we knew that this movie, without being militant or pushy, would speak about something very important – ie, the changes needed, including those in everyday life, those in terms of social treatment and those to the laws in our country. We were aware that it was going to be a challenge, telling such an intimate story with tenderness and in a responsible fashion. We hope this movie can change something.
Woman of is subtle, but also revolutionary. How did you weave these two elements together to strike the perfect balance?
MS: That was our goal. But as cis people, we didn’t want to make a violent film or portray just hate, or to victimise trans people. We don't want to do that. Plus, [the consultants] asked us not to do so, and that's why we chose the genre of melodrama, a love story in a subtle form. In addition, we were trying to tell the story from both sides, to also show the perspective of the family, the wife, the parents and the kids. And yes, it's revolutionary, I think, because there is nothing like it that has come before in our part of Europe, and in Poland particularly. We had more than 100 trans people in the film, and some of them played cis parts, too.
The relationship between Aniela and Iza seems to deteriorate before it evolves. How did you build the love story to such a plausible and poetic result?
ME: We did quite a lot of research; we met these kinds of couples, and they went through so many different stages in their relationships, where both sides needed time to adapt to the new status quo. This realisation was what we found very touching: in the end, love overcomes all the obstacles along the way.
In public discourse and in cinema, trans bodies are treated as sensational or a bit like a battlefield. Did you have any cues about how to present Aniela’s trans body?
ME: The search for the beauty of it, rather than the controversy. So we were looking for a kind of narration and a way to film it that would not be too aggressive. Of course, it was difficult because we wanted to avoid using artificial elements and prosthetics. We respected this movie enough to let it tell us about the process of ageing, which we find very beautiful and rare nowadays.
Is showing Aniela’s life over the course of 40 years connected to Poland’s own political transition?
MS: Yes, of course – that's our life, the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. We are the children of the transition. The Communist Party fell when I was 16 years old, and we remember that very well. So I had this feeling: we wanted to show these moments in the history of Poland in the background in order to demonstrate the transformation, the transition of the country and the transition towards a new law. And it was potentially a route to freedom, but actually, in the end, there's no freedom for LGBTQ people in Poland.
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