Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Film Review: Nic Nie Ginie (Nothing is Lost) (dir. Kalina Alabrudzińska, 2019)

It's only 5 years since Łódź Film School inaugurated the "Diploma Film," a final project for the year's contingent of graduating students. But in that short time the initiative has firmly established itself as an important and anticipated tradition for the School.

Last year, with Monument, Jagoda Szelc produced the best of the Diploma films yet: a hypnotic and unsettling mood piece that finally revealed its hand as a shrewd meta-reflection on the experience of studying at the school itself. The confidence of Szelc's vision was stunning and was probably made possible by the fact that she had already completed and released a first feature, the distinctive Tower. A Bright Day (2017). 

An assistant director on Tower was Kalina Alabrudzińska, who now steps into the director's chair herself with this year's Diploma film Nothing is Lost (Nic Nie Ginie). A much more accessible offering than Monument, Alabrudzińska's film, which she describes as "a sad comedy," doesn't attempt to replicate its predecessor's oddity or intensity, instead treating serious subject matter in a much lighter way. Screened at Koszalin's 38th Youth & Film festival, where it won the prize for Best Directing, the result is an attractive ensemble drama that will likely have far wider general audience appeal than Monument's trippier vision.

That said, Nothing is Lost actually starts out as "meta" as Monument ended up - with a cheeky reflection on "group therapy" scenes in cinema. Such a session is getting underway as the film commences, and finds the characters wondering: "Are we gonna sit in a circle like this? There are scenes like that in movies. Usually the most boring scenes..." This self-reflexive opening establishes the humourous tone of the film, which never becomes a mere mope-fest. Doubtless mindful to incorporate as many of the graduating actors as possible, Alabrudzińska uses the context of the therapy meetings to bring together a group of diverse characters - and then to branch out into snapshots of their lives and relationships outside the sessions.

As  the "lost" or searching protagonists start to open up and "find" something in the therapy, the set-up sometimes gives off Breakfast Club vibes. But, working from her own script, Alabrudzińska prevents the film from degenerating into a series of predictable emotional showdowns. Bonding scenes and so-called "breakthrough moments" tend to be underplayed, and not everything resolves in the way you anticipate (or at all). 

As such, the film avoids obviousness, allowing its characters to retain a bit of mystery. The storytelling is helped by the contribution of cinematographer Nils Croné, who gives the images a clear, warm, burnished look that's very inviting, and by the crisp editing of Piasek & Wójcik (following their work on Ewa Podgorska's brilliant Diagnosis), which moves us fluidly between the therapy sessions and the characters' individual lives.

Still, while the technical side is more than proficient, Nothing is Lost's main asset is its performers, and those who've been lucky enough to see these actors' often amazing stage work over the past year (in new extravaganzas like Fever, devised pieces such as Slippery Words, or contemporary classics like Angels in America) will be particularly delighted to find them taking to the camera with equal assurance.

Alabrudzińska's writing allows the actors to develop characters who are relatable but who go beyond conventional "types." Michał Surosz is lovely as a guy so dedicated to saving a particular endangered species of turtle that all his other relationships are neglected. Wiktoria Filus charms as a single mum trying out Tinder, and Jan Hrynkiewicz delivers delectably mean put-downs with aplomb as the group's most caustic participant. Zuzanna Puławska is funny and touching as a mother-dominated people-pleaser, and charismatic Piotr Pacek shines as an actor with interpersonal issues - so much so that he feels rejected by nature itself. (The film makes nature a motif, in fact: plants, trees and the aforementioned turtles all feature in the protogonists' attempts to connect.)

And in case it seems that the focus is entirely on personal concerns, Nothing is Lost doesn't shy away from the wider context of darker elements of contemporary Polish political reality, either. The most ambitious sequence here is a night-time nationalist gathering attended by Hrynkiewicz's character and featuring Elżbieta Zajko as a firebrand delivering hate speech, with Kamil Rodek and Mateusz Grodecki on hand as colleagues, the latter playing guitar and singing that "The day of mighty Poland is coming."

Some of the smaller roles need further development; one senses a few of the actors' eagerness to go further into the characters than their fleeting appearances allow. But Robert Ratuszny and Faustyna Kazimierska - memorably opening a beer bottle with her teeth! - maximise their brief screen time, while, in one of the best sequences, Karol Franek Nowiński flashes his great grin - surely one of the best smiles the Polish screen has seen - as a pharmacist who pleases Pacek's character by revealing himself to be a fan - before their exchange is given a great comic twist. And Ksenia Tchórzko gets a lovely appearance as a dog-sitting neighbour, when the film belatedly digresses to focus on the therapist, Remek (excellent Dobromir Dymecki), himself.

Such moments cut to the heart of the concern with human interaction which is the main preoccupation of Nothing is Lost. In the introduction to Powidoki / Afterimages, a poetic book of visual essays about Łódź Film School, (di)rector Mariusz Grzegorzek describes the School as "a special place" where "there flows a source of energy that connects people." In its wise and wry portrait of the challenges and possibilities of making contact, Alabrudzińska's likeable film taps into that source.

Nic Nie Ginie / Nothing is Lost  will screen in the Panorama section of the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia (16 - 19 September). 

NIC NIE GINIE /////// teaser ////// scenariusz i reżyseria Kalina Alabrudzińska from LODZ FILM SCHOOL on Vimeo.

Friday, 9 August 2019

Theatre Review: Directors' Festival 2019 (Orange Tree)

The Mikvah Project (Photo: Robert Day)

This is the third year that the Orange Tree has run its Directors' Festival, which presents the work of graduates from St. Mary's University's MA Theatre Directing course over a week of performances. As Paul Miller has previously noted, "director training is part of the OT's DNA," and the initiative has its roots in the long-running Directors' Showcase seasons of Sam Walters' tenure, when the theatre's trainees staged such seldom-seen plays as Caryl Churchill's The After-Dinner Joke and Amiri Baraka's Dutchman, which featured future Hamlet Paapa Essiedu in a galvanising turn. 

This year, the four plays presented are, once again, all contemporary works, ones that, via a series of excellent designs by the enterprising team of Cory Shipp, Chris McDonnell (lighting) and Lex Kosanke (sound), transport the audience from the Portuguese capital to the mindscapes of a love-seeking man and woman, from mountain tops to a Mikvah bath. 

The latter is the location for Josh Azouz's The Mikvah Project, which, with a surprising amount of humour, unfolds a love story between two very different Jewish men who meet every Friday to take part in the religious ritual of water submersion. Avi is a married thirtysomething trying for a child with his wife, while Eitan is an Arsenal-loving 17-year-old. As the men talk and bond, mutual attraction surfaces, which Eitan is keen to act on. 

As a portrait of gay desire struggling with culture, The Mikvah Project suggests a Jewish Brokeback Mountain or, more aptly, a companion to the excellent 2009 Israeli film Eyes Wide Open. Shipp's set opens a pool in the OT floor which the actors slip into and out of. At such moments, Georgia Green's audience-inclusive production creates a palpable erotic tension, while also indulging some broad comedy, especially in a manic and very funny Alicante-set interlude. Grace notes are found in the well-judged performances, with Dylan Mason capturing Eitan's ardency and Robert Neumark Jones touchingly conveying Avi's conflicts. 

Eight Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography (Photo: Robert Day) 

A more caustic take on modern relationships is offered in Declan Greene's Eight Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography, which presents a hook-up between a nurse and an IT worker - each with their own problems. (He's a miserably married porn addict, and she a debt-ridden shopaholic.) It's more "meet desperate" than "meet cute," and the fantastic opening scene captures the relentlessness and absurdity of needy online interactions with wince-inducing perceptiveness. 

The bluntness of the title carries over into much of the dialogue, which Cate Hamer and Matthew Douglas deliver with aplomb, getting a great rhythm going. Nothing revelatory is said about the way in which technology feeds on and frustrates the human need for intimacy. But, with crackling bursts of static and illumination, Gianluca Lello's sharp and intelligent production makes wonderfully dynamic a play which, like The Mikvah Project, tends to (over-)rely on to-audience narration rather than the creation of dramatic scenes. 

Pilgrims (Photo: Robert Day)

The other two plays in the festival are engaging three-handers. Elinor Cook's Pilgrims offers a feminist take on (male) wanderlust and folk song, with Nicholas Armfield and Luke MacGregor as two dedicated climbers and Adeyinka Akinrinade as the PhD student who, in conventional parlance, "comes between them." Armfield and MacGregor convey an affectionate, but also tense and competitive, bond and Akinrinade moves compellingly from sparkiness to disappointment as the girl who gives up her own dream for theirs. 

Mythological and archetypal resonances are incorporated with a slightly heavy hand, but Ellie Goodall's production is fluid and sensitive, negotiating temporal and location shifts with elegant economy (plus some lovely a capella folk singing by the cast), and giving the production a mystical undertone. Signposted from the outset, the outcome seems predictable, but the play twists in an unexpected direction in the subversive and exceptionally well-played final scene. 

Sadness and Joy in the Life of Giraffes (Photo: Robert Day)  

The most obviously dazzling and surprising of the four productions is Wiebke Green's take on Tiago Rodrigues' Sadness and Joy in the Life of Giraffes. The premise of this play - the imaginative odyssey of a 9-year-old across Lisbon, accompanied by her teddy bear (named Judy Garland) - sounds like the height of preciousness. But, belying its overt playful qualities, Rodrigues' writing (presented here in a fine poetic/profane translation by Mark O'Thomas) turns out to have plenty of bite, and succeeds in confounding the viewer at every turn. "Judy Garland" (a hilarious, bear-suited Nathan Welsh), for one, has suicidal tendencies, a Ted-ish vocabulary and attitude to spare, while the play itself has decidedly complex things to say about loss and the relationship of language to experience. 

Green keeps the proceedings fleet, funny and physical throughout, with the great Gyuri Sarossy multi-tasking superbly as "The Man Who Is My Father" and all the other blokes encountered on the journey. (Including Chekhov!) But ultimately the evening belongs to Eve Ponsonby who gives a sublime and exhilarating performance as the smarty pants, dictionary-devouring heroine who has more to learn about life and language than she realises. A brilliant and barmy trip, Green's hugely enjoyable production makes the viewer wish for more Portuguese plays - and certainly more plays by Rodrigues - on the UK stage. 

The Directors' Festival runs until 11 August. Further information and booking details here

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Shooting the Moon: on the 9th Transatlantyk Festival, Łódź, 12-19 July 2019

Ja Teraz Kłamię 

"I wish you all a strange trip," said director Paweł Borowski as he introduced his new film Ja Teraz Kłamię (I'm Lying Now) to a packed house at the 9th Transatlantyk Festival, Łódź. "Strange trips" were not in short supply at this year's edition of Jan A. P. Kaczmarek's "glocal" 7 day film and music event, which, following last year's independence-themed programme, this time took as its topic "The Moon Landing and Other Interrupted Dreams" - as a way of celebrating not only the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission but also the transportive, dream-inspiring potential of the cinematic and musical arts.

Ja Teraz Kłamię

Borowski's wish was realised: Ja Teraz Kłamię, the director's first feature since his acclaimed debut Zero ten years ago, is a dazzlingly designed Rubik's cube of a movie that, in its idiosyncratic way and with a Rashomon-esque narrative structure, addresses our "post-truth" culture via the interwoven experiences of three protagonists who participate in a "reality" TV show. A pleasingly convoluted plot (which only conks out a bit at the very end) and some breathtaking visuals - don't be surprised to hear yourself exclaim "Wow!" on several occasions - are complemented by the efforts of a fabulous (and fabulously costumed) cast, with talented young Łódź theatre heroine Paulina Walendziak more than holding her own against such luminaries as an intense Maja Ostaszewska and the otherworldly Agata Buzek, garbed in black as the show's enigmatic host. A unique offering in contemporary Polish cinema, Borowski's film seems destined for major cult status.

Arturo Ripstein 

Elsewhere, the Festival's wide-ranging programme encompassed philosophical debates and such unique events as the Instant Composition Contest and the always-popular Cinema in Bed screenings, in which great recent films including Tully, Fugue, Happy as Lazzaro, The Heiresses and Summer 1993 - a highlight of Transatlantyk 2017 - were presented. The Culinary Cinema section found four new foodie documentaries and Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott's evergreen Big Night (1996) inspiring delicious dinners and stimulating conversations at EC1, where Jull Dziamski, the artist responsible for this year's Festival poster, also exhibited a selection of his exciting work.

A rare retrospective of the films of Aleksei German was greatly appreciated, and, as usual, attendees also had the opportunity to engage with filmmakers in person thanks to post-screening Q&As and the series of special Master classes, which this year featured Mexican maestro Arturo Ripstein (recipient of this year's FIPRESCI Platinum Award 94), Wojciech Marczewski (whose Star on the Łódź Walk of Fame was unveiled during the Festival), and Martha Coolidge, whose new film I'll Find You received its Polish premiere at the Opening Gala. A soapy, well-meaning and determinedly old-fashioned WWII love story that's somewhat reminiscent of Amma Asante's recent Where Hands Touch (2018), I'll Find You was few people's idea of a galvanising festival opener but justified its inclusion due to its Łódź setting and Kaczmarek's status as the film's composer.


The New Cinema section, however, offered more innovative visions. The exciting new Israeli cinema was well represented by Nadav Lapid's Golden Bear-awarded Synonyms, a ludic, cerebral and sharp-edged investigation into issues of nationhood, language and identity that features charismatic Tom Mercier (variously naked or sporting a highly covetable mustard-coloured coat) as Yoav, a twentysomething who, having completed his military service, rejects his homeland for France but finds assimilation into the City of Light a more problematic prospect than might be imagined. 

God of the Piano

Meanwhile, the influence of Lapid's wonderful The Kindergarten Teacher (2014) could be felt in Itay Tal's confident debut film God of the Piano, a brisk but haunting drama that grips like a thriller as it focuses on a complicated heroine (great Naama Preis) striving to make her son a piano prodigy. Lean and stylish, God of the Piano is notable for its intelligent perspective on the place of talent in family dynamics, and, following the success of Sara Colangelo's superb US take on The Kindergarten Teacher (2018), it wouldn't be much of a stretch to imagine an American remake of Tal's film in the future, too.

Several other memorable dramas also placed complex female protagonists at their centre. Teona Strugar Mitevska's God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya focuses on the patriarchal ruckus that results when the title character (Zorica Nusheva) intrudes on male territory by being the one to pull a cross out of a river during a religious ceremony in a Macedonian village. Marie Kreutzer's The Ground Beneath My Feet plays out as a sincere, emotionally insightful counter to Maren Ade's ghastly Toni Erdmann (2016) as it critiques corporate culture through a focus on an ambitious business consultant (Valerie Pachner) grappling with her carefully compartmentalised professional and personal commitments.

Nina Wu

Premiered in Cannes' Un Certain Regard section, Midi Z's #MeToo-influenced Nina Wu oscillates compellingly between social realism and hallucinatory Lynchian weirdness in its exploration of the exploitation of an actress (the director's usual collaborator Wu Ke-xi) in the Taiwanese film industry. As in The Ground Beneath my Feet the (lesbian) sexuality of the protagonist is presented with refreshing matter-of-factness - though a lurid, overly explicit final flashback sequence unfortunately leaves the film itself open to the charge of exploitation. 


Fresh from Cannes' Main Competition, Justine Triet's campier, all-over-the-shop Sybil features the elegant Virginie Efira as the title character, a psychiatrist cannibalising the life of a patient (Adele Exarchopoulos, perpetually tear-stained) for a novel. With Erdmann's Sandra Hüller rehashing her frazzled schtick as an under-pressure filmmaker and Niels Schneider steamily reuniting with Efira after last year's An Impossible Love, the film takes off in all manner of directions and never quite comes together, but offers a memorably off-kilter ride, held together by Efira's game, quicksilver turn. With female protagonists and performances such as these standing out throughout the festival, it was also notable that the audience-voted Distribution Award went to a female-directed film for the third year in a row: this time, the winner was Nora Fingscheidt's System Crasher, a distinctively kinetic take on the in-care experiences of a "problem" child.


American cinema didn't have anything of substance to offer, though Nicolas Pesce's Piercing, screened in Cinema by Night, which features the appealing duo of Christopher Abbott and Mia Wasikowska in a highly stylised torture porn power game curio adapted from Ryū Murukami's  novel, is the quintessence of a guilty pleasure. International filmmakers, in contrast, were to be found grappling with intersections of personal and political histories in interesting ways. Flavia Castro's Unremember tracks a family's return from exile in France to their homeland of Brazil where teenager Joana (Jeanne Boudier), initially resistant to the move, finds herself drawn into new pleasures and memories of the past, the latter related to the fate of her father. Castro's film isn't particularly satisfying dramatically but its brooding, moody texture keeps the viewer close to the emotional experience of its young heroine.


A belated (and cheekily titled) follow-up to his immaculately chilling debut Michael (2011) Markus Schleinzer's Angelo follows an African slave boy's progress through the 18th century Austrian court where he starts out as the favourite of a countess (Alba Rohrwacher) and ends up...well, that would be telling. With unstressed anachronistic touches piercing the period ambience, and the director's super-subtlety subverting some traditional tropes, the opening scenes promise much but the film falters due to an unsatisfying, decades-leaping structure and its frustrating failure to make its protagonist more than a cipher.

I Was Here

A welcome contrast to the celeb-struck tendencies of Asif Kapadia - whose shallow "trilogy" of Senna (2010), Amy (2015) and Diego Maradona (2019), as "tabloid" as the culture they ostensibly critique, screened as part of a retrospective - two fantastic new documentaries focusing on "ordinary" people were revelations for the festival audience. In I Was Here, directors Nathalie Biancheri and Ola Jankowska interview a range of people from around the UK about their lives, posing the question of why they would make a compelling documentary subject.

The question leads to some fascinating accounts of illness, creativity, work, and adoption. An elderly woman sings, dances and does the splits - and then shares a perceptive account of her previous life as a carer. A confident, beefy guy weeps as he recalls his separation from his sister as a child. Brief moments of re-enactment - from sleeping positions to a doctor's examination - make mimed daily activities  a strange ballet, but what captivates here are not the meta aspects so much as the articulated memories hopes, dreams, fears and fantasies of the protagonists, their faces lovingly attended to in Biancheri's and Jankowska's unflinching but tender frame.

Diagnosis poster

A unique city symphony, both intimate and monumental, in which the metropolis and human psyche become indivisible, Ewa Podgórska's Diagnosis takes a more overtly stylised approach to the documentary form, with a haunting sound design, slow zooms and some stunning overhead shots creating a hypnotic, multifaceted portrait of Łódź that might be described as an investigation into the city's subconscious. As the title indicates, Diagnosis combines elements of psychoanalysis with urban studies, as questions such as "If the city had patents, what would they be like?" and "If the city was a colour what would it be?" yield answers at once poetic and direct from the interviewees, generating insights that create a deeper, more impressionistic vision of the city than that made possible by a focus on demonstrable facts. 

Like I Was Here, Diagnosis unfolds stories of caring and compromise, loss, disappointment and resilience, and it was especially powerful to screen the film in the city that is its subject, with some of the protagonists present for Q&A discussions. By turns moving, funny and surprising, both of these empathetic documentaries deserve to be widely seen. Affirming a common humanity, they also prompt a subversive reassessment of what constitutes "ordinary" experience. In a year in which the festival celebrated the special achievement of the moon-landing, it was essential to have these films to remind us, so insightfully and intensely, of the pains, joys and complexities of our earthbound lives.

A full list of festival winners is available here.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

"It's been the adventure of my life": Łódź Film School Actor Interviews (vi): Mateusz Grodecki

Mateusz Grodecki (Photo: Aleksandra Pawłowska)

Mateusz Grodecki plays multiple roles in the Diploma show Fever (Pomysłowe Mebelki z Gąbki), directed by Mariusz Grzegorzek, and the character of Louis Ironson in Angels in America, directed by Małgorzata BogajewskaHe also features in the Diploma film Nic Nie Ginie (Nothing is Lost), directed by Kalina Alabrudzińska.

Alex Ramon: Tell me a bit about your background.

Mateusz Grodecki:  Music came first for me. I was born in Przemyśl, a town close to the Ukranian border, and my favourite hobby, one of the things I loved most, was playing the guitar. I was in two bands playing rock and metal music. So my biggest dream when I was growing up was playing guitar on a huge stage to a big crowd. When I graduated high school I felt like the band was over, but I wanted to continue performing. I had performed in local theatre, and I found I was drawn to acting more and more. I didn't have professional lessons; I prepared alone, working with different texts. I auditioned for the Film School here in Łódź and got in.

AR: What are your feelings about the training, which I understand concentrates more on theatre than screen acting?

MG: Personally, I'm very happy with the training here. Theatre for me is the magical place where actors feel most at home and where the greatest actors are found. It's because of the connection with the audience and the fact that it's happening in the present moment. Film is great too, but in the end it's more the director's medium. Whereas in theatre the actor has more control over their performance and the telling of the story from beginning to end. At least, that's how I see it.

AR: So how was working on the two Diploma theatre shows you perform in, Fever and Angels in America?

MG: It was tiring and demanding, but great. Fever was the first of the Diploma shows and we were all very excited about it. Mariusz Grzegorzek, our director, is the wizard of theatre: a good man, and so creative. He encouraged our collaboration in the show, inviting us to bring in things we were interested in. For example, Ksenia [Tchórzko], Franek [Nowiński] and I created the tap dancing scene together.

Filip Warot, Karol Nowiński and Mateusz Grodecki in Fever
(Photo: Filip Szkopiński)

AR: It's such a lovely moment. Which other scenes do you most enjoy performing in the show?

MG: One of my favourites is when we all perform the Czesław Niemen song "Pieśń wojów" ("Warrior Song"). I hadn't heard the piece before and when Mariusz played it, I thought: "Oh my God!" It's a primal, Viking, warrior song. When I sing it with all my friends on the stage, I feel the emotions very, very strongly. I think about Poland - about the history of the country and what's happening now.

AR: How is it to perform the end sequence, "Four Miles From Warsaw", which is so daring in its staging?

MG: It's scary, to be honest! But exciting too. The text is an old ballad but it feels timeless. I see it as a warning from history.

Mateusz Grodecki and Piotr Pacek in Fever
(Photo: Filip Szkopiński)

AR: Piotr Pacek also mentioned the quiet scene that you play together as father and son.

MG: Oh yes, it's very special. We play it naturalistically. I try to focus on the real feelings of the character. When I'm waiting before we start the scene I take a big breath and cut out everything else for this moment. I feel very responsible for showing to the audience the feelings of this boy.

AR: How did working on Angels in America with Małgorzata Bogajewska compare?

MG: It's hard to compare because the experiences were so different. They both challenged and excited me, and made me use and develop totally different skills. I feel very happy because I'm a young actor and I already got the chance to play with different methods. That's what's exciting about this job.

In Fever, for example, the close contact with the audience is very important. We talk to them directly in some moments, acknowledging their presence. In Angels we're playing to each other. And playing one character, you have to create a whole history for them, and really get inside them. We had classes with Małgorzata  Bogajewska from our second year in School, and she decided to do the Diploma show with us, and chose the Tony Kushner text. I'd heard about it because of the series with Al Pacino and Meryl Streep, and the famous Warlikowski production. Of course our production has some very challenging scenes, like the sexual encounter in the park, and the wrestling scene where Kamil [Rodek] and I are naked.

Sebastian Śmigielski and Mateusz Grodecki
 in Angels in America (Photo:
 Filip Szkopiński)
AR: Did you do a lot of research into the period?

MG: Yes, we studied a lot about America in the 1980s, about Reagan, about AIDS. I enjoy this kind of research very much.

AR: Louis is a character who people often criticise, for his idealistic chatter and his abandoning of Prior. How do you feel about him?

MG: The fact is that in reality people don't always do the perfect thing. Louis loves Prior but he's a young man who can't deal with the situation and isn't prepared to sacrifice himself. With my performance, I try to encourage the audience to understand his conflicts and his desires, and maybe not to judge him so harshly.

AR: How was making the Diploma film, Nic Nie Ginie?

MG: I liked it a lot. I have one scene, playing the guitar in the forest, and singing a song created for the film. It's not a lot of screen time, but it's an important scene, quite controversial.

AR: Do you like Łódź as a city?

MG: Many people say it's horrible but I always reply that you need to live here for a few years to really discover it. It's a mysterious city with many surprises. And thinking about the film history is very important too.

Mateusz Grodecki (Photo: Aleksandra Pawłowska)

AR:  What are your future plans? Who are some directors you'd like to work with?

MG: I feel like I'm a free man! There are a few theatres I would really like to work in - here, in Warsaw, in Gdańsk  and Krakow. As for international directors - well, Quentino Tarantino! Of course we all feel quite encouraged that Rafał Zawierucha is playing Polański  in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood! In terms of Polish filmmakers, I admire Smarzowski for making intelligent films that address problems in society. And I would love to work with Jagoda Szelc who I think will have a great career. With Tower. A Bright Day and Monument it feels like she really started something new in Polish cinema.

AR: Are you interested in Shakespeare? You'd make a great Hamlet.

MG: Wow, thank you! Yes, I love Shakespeare: he's a God! He writes about human nature in all its aspects and with the most amazing language.

AR: It seems like you're very positive about your time here and what the future holds.

MG: Yes, like I said, coming here to Łódź was great for me. It's been the adventure of my life. I met some very good people: some of my professors taught me... not only acting skills -  but they opened my mind up to so many new things. I'm very grateful to the School for that.

Angels in America is performed for a final time at Teatr Studyjny tonight, 18 June. 

Other interviewees: 

Piotr Pacek
Anna Paliga
Paweł Głowaty
Ksenia Tchórzko
Karol Franek Nowiński

"The school helps you to open your mind": Łódź Film School Actor Interviews (v): Karol Franek Nowiński

Karol Franek Nowiński (Photo: Aleksandra Pawłowska)
Karol Franek Nowiński plays multiple roles in Fever (Pomysłowe Mebelki z Gąbki) and the character of Leo in Śliskie słowa (Slippery Words). He also features in the Diploma Film Nic Nie Ginie (Nothing is Lost), directed by Kalina Alabrudzińska.

Alex Ramon: Was it always your ambition to be an actor?

Karol Franek Nowiński: It's funny you should ask that because just the other day my parents sent me a message. They were clearing up my room and had found some old notebooks from when I was 11 or 12. In one of them I'd written down my dreams for the future. The first one was "To be an actor on the stage." This was followed by "Become a lawyer" - a classy alternative! - and "Become a chef."

I'm from Warsaw. We have some fringe stages there, and when I was 16 I auditioned for a part in Grease and got the job. I'd been in some drama groups before that, and played some roles, but this was my first professional job. Later, at school, we did a version of Miss Saigon. I enjoy musicals very much; and when I've visited London I've always made sure to see some West End shows. More recently, with my colleagues here, we put together a show based around songs by Agnieszka Osiecka. I'd originally thought of going to Gdańsk where they have a good school for musical acting. But my friend told me about Warsaw and Łódź so I auditioned. I got in here, and forgot about my original plan!

AR: How has your time at the School been and what are some of the most important things you've learnt over the four years?

KFN: It's a huge question. I could write a book about it! But overall I feel positive about the four years: what I got from my professors, my friends, the guys from other departments. One problem, and its not unique to Łódź, is that the school is "closed" in the sense that you can't go to auditions while studying. I didn't have such problems but some of my friends had to make hard decisions about whether to stay at the school or not if a job opportunity of some kind came up.

I guess that "Trust yourself" is one of the big lessons I take away from the training here. It's easy to say it, but it took me four years to really develop that belief. Before school, I thought I was stronger and more confident than I actually was. So it was a good, hard lesson. The school helps you to open your mind, to look deeply inside - not in the sense that you're "raping" yourself - but in a careful and supported way.

Filip Warot, Karol Nowiński and Mateusz Grodecki in Fever
(Photo: Filip Szkopiński)

AR: How was the experience of making the Diploma shows, Fever and Slippery Words (Śliskie słowa)?
KFN: Very interesting because I'm in two shows which are not typical dramas made from an existing text. With Fever, Mariusz Grzegorzek didn't know exactly what the end result would be but he came with texts and ideas, also wanting our input. He has an amazing brain and knows so many things - from classics to the very latest music.

At our first meeting for Śliskie słowa, Artur Urbański  said to us all: "We don't know each other. Tell me a story." He was observing us, seeing our energy. I'm very grateful to Artur and the atmosphere he created, which gave us a chance to experiment and try things. I love writing as well, and it was great that we could create our own scenes and characters through improvisation. We were inspired a lot by material we found on YouTube, and by the writing of Dorota Masłowska, which fed into Ola Skraba's character, Ala, in particular.

AR: How did your character, the chef Leo, evolve?

KFN: Originally I was thinking to create a character based around Mikey Walsh's memoir Gypsy Boy  but it happened that I made dinner for everyone and Artur was rather inspired by this! I like cooking, and, as I told you, being a chef was one of my ambitions, but I wasn't sure I wanted to play one. However, I trusted Artur, and I'm happy with the direction we went in. Again, trust is so important in this job - trusting yourself and your colleagues. I also watched Marco Ferreri's La Grand Bouffe, which proved to be a big inspiration for me.

(Photo: Aleksandra Pawłowska)

AR: How was making the Diploma film, Nic Nie Ginie?

KFN: I don't have a huge part but I really enjoyed the experience. Kalina [Alabrudzińska] is a good person and the energy on the set was great. We didn't have a lot of time, but she created space, things never felt rushed. Our cinematographer, Nils Croné, was excellent and so was the whole crew. I had a great time.

AR: What are your future plans?

KFN: I'm going back to Warsaw and thinking about auditioning for the music Academy there. I feel like musicals are getting stronger and stronger in Poland, and it's exciting to be part of that. As for dream roles... well, anything from Cabaret! I saw the production at Teatr Dramatyczny five times. I like American drama and I'd love to perform in Tennessee Williams plays, in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf...

AR: Is it a good moment for Polish culture, in your opinion?

KFN: Well, the political situation isn't good, and we're all ashamed about that. But there are some positive things, too, with the first Polish Netflix series and some interesting directors coming through with different visions and ideas. So it's getting better, but with small steps, and the government doesn't help. What I like about Fever is that it reminds us of the richness of Polish culture, and that there are many things to be interested in and inspired by in our cultural history.

AR: Will you miss Łódź?

KFN: Yes, I really like it here. The city centre has a great vibe, with many good venues, clubs, and restaurants with vegetarian and vegan food. It's very cool. It's slower paced than Warsaw, but there's a lot happening, too.

"The most important thing for me is diversity": Łódź Film School Actor Interviews (iv): Ksenia Tchórzko

Ksenia Tchórzko (Photo credit: Julia Klewaniec)

Ksenia Tchórzko plays multiple roles in the Diploma show, Pomysłowe Mebelki z Gąbki (Fever), directed by Mariusz Grzegorzek (for which she won prizes at the Morocco International Drama Schools Festival and the 37th Polish Theatre School Festival). She also plays the Rabbi, Ethel Rosenberg and Hannah Pitt in Angels in America, directed by Małgorzata Bogajewska, and  features in the Diploma film Nic Nie Ginie (Nothing is Lost), directed by Kalina Alabrudzinska. 

Alex Ramon: When did your interest in acting start?

Ksenia Tchórzko: From kindergarten! By the time I got to primary school, I already knew that I wanted to be an actress and really there was nothing else for me. 

AR: Why Łódź Film School?

KT: I think Łódź chose me. I had exams for three schools - Warsaw, Krakow, and Łódź - and this was the one where I was successful. 

AR: What are your feelings about the training here?

KT: There are good and bad things, ups and downs. There are some gaps in the training. You don't end up with particular techniques and methods, for example. On the one hand, that's a downside: I still feel like I need more of those things, and I'm a bit uncomfortable without them. On the other hand, there were some amazing teachers here who gave me a lot of great inspiration and advice.

AR: Which professional actors inspire you, from here in Poland or abroad?

KT: Christoph Waltz is exceptional to me. I very much admire that he's an international actor. It's the kind of career I would hope for. In Poland I notice that there are many actresses who really get into their stride when they're in their 50s. People like Aleksandra Konieczna, Agata Kulesza, Dorota Kolak - they were always great actresses, of course, but they get better and better, and find some of their most interesting roles now they're older. Their way wasn't the usual one, and that's very inspiring to me as a young actress.

AR: Which filmmakers do you admire?

KT: I immediately think about Tarantino! I like old French and Italian cinema very much too, and contemporary directors like Paolo Sorrentino. Here in Poland, directors like Bartosz Konopka, Agnieszka Smoczyńska and Jagoda Szelc are doing such interesting, challenging work. 

AR: Does the political situation in Poland make it difficult for artists right now?

KT: Perhaps, but sometimes when the political situation is not in its best state the culture improves, in a way, because it gives people something to react to strongly and fight against. 

     (Photo: Tomasz Wysocki) 

AR: How was it to work on the first Diploma show, Fever, with Mariusz Grzegorzek - which is a challenging, oppositional show in many ways?

KT: It was so exciting mainly because of Mariusz's personality. Sometimes in the morning he'd be like: "Oh God, I can't do it, I have such a headache!" Then by the afternoon there's no stopping him! We gave him our trust at the beginning and it paid off. It was definitely hard work. Mariusz is the kind of director who has a vision and will do everything to achieve it. I much prefer that to someone who doesn't really know what they want. But there was room for spontaneity, and our suggestions and ideas were always encouraged.

AR: Was the material that he brought in familiar to you?

KT: The Hutsul material was new for me, and it was wonderful to learn about it. We needed that in the show as a contrast. "Swollen Problems" is the kind of thing you can see on TV all the time, but the Hutsul traditions were our soul and it was great to explore them.

Fever (Photo: Filip Szkopiński) 

AR: Do you have some other favourite moments to perform in the show? 

KT: I do like "Swollen Problems," both being in it and watching my colleagues as they try out different things each time. It's very inspiring. And I like the last "Four Miles from Warsaw" sequence very much. I'm close to the audience and can see their reactions as I'm singing. It's my moment of direct contact. 

AR: How was it to perform this very Polish show at the FIESAD festival in Morocco?

KT: It was quite crazy! There were so many people, too many for the room. Reactions were very vivid and vocal - people were shouting out. They liked "Swollen Problems" a lot; this kind of TV show is international and everyone can relate to it. But they were speechless after the last part, that very intense scene.

Fever (Photo: Filip Szkopiński)

AR: How did making Angels in America compare?

KT: At the beginning I thought: No way! I'd seen the HBO series and knew about the iconic Warlikowski production, and I thought there was no way we could do this, or do the piece justice by only doing the first half. Rehearsals weren't so comfortable because we were in Krakow and the change of environment was challenging. And also, I had three roles. But in the end that proved very interesting: this strange combination of characters: a Rabbi, a Mormon, and a Jewish woman. Following in the footsteps of Meryl Streep is quite special! We did a lot of research on American history, and an academic specialist on the play spoke to us. For Polish viewers it can be hard to get to grips with the complicated American context, so this was very helpful. 

I met a Rabbi and Mormons to learn about the cultures and traditions. I like this part of work very much. It was also interesting that Mariusz and Gosia [Bogajewska] work in totally different ways, and have very different personalities as directors. Mariusz has a clearer vision from the beginning. Gosia is more about trying out different things during the rehearsals and asking the actors to prepare individually.

The Angels in America company (Photo: Filip Szkopiński)

AR: How was it to meet Joseph Mydell who played Belize in the original National Theatre production and who saw your production when he visited Łódź? 

KT: It was really touching because he was so moved by the performance. It was amazing that he saw the show for the first time in 25 years in Łódź. And I think that was the moment when I thought: OK, maybe it was worth it after all. Up to that point I didn't feel so confident about the production, but his reaction convinced me that we were doing some good things.

AR: How was working on the Diploma film, Nic Nie Ginie?

KT: I don't have a big part but it was a great experience. I was a bit angry about the situation at first, because not everyone has a part like they did in Monument last year but once I got on set my attitude changed, mostly because of Kalina. She is amazing: her openness, her confidence. It was a short time but I learnt a lot.

AR: How about your future plans or dream roles?

KT: I have some upcoming work in theatre and film, and I'm excited to work in both of those mediums. In terms of dream roles, it's hard to say; there are many things I would like to play. The most important thing for me is diversity. The idea of playing a character of the opposite gender is always interesting. In that way, Angels in America became a dream, playing those three different parts. As it happened I'd started learning Hebrew before I was cast; maybe it was intuition or something. 

I think it's possible to find something interesting about every project. In Angels, I would say that I learnt how to be a supporting actress. It can be challenging not to be at the centre, but through this experience I learnt how to support my friends on stage and to really be there for them. It's one of the main things I take away from this production.

Angels in America is performed for a final time at Teatr Studyjny tonight, 18 June. 

Monday, 17 June 2019

"Humanity is the key to our work": Łódź Film School Actor Interviews (iii): Paweł Głowaty

(Image: Tomasz Wysocki)

Paweł Głowaty plays Roy Cohn in Angels in America, directed by Małgorzata Bogajewska, for which he won the Kaleidoscope Award at the Polish Theatre Schools Festival this year. He features in the Diploma Film Nic Nie Ginie (Nothing is Lost), directed by Kalina Alabrudzińska, and also works as a director.

Alex Ramon: When did you become interested in performing?

Paweł Głowaty: For me it all began 7 or 8 years ago, when I started dancing. This was in Bytom. I was accepted to study there after exams. But I chose the Film School because I fell in love with theatre and with words. My Polish language teacher got me interested in literature and in poetry. I felt that it would be great to say such wonderful words on stage. As actors our job is to feel the words, to say them, and to say them with respect. So when I was accepted here I made the decision to come to Łódź, and, at the end of my studies now, I don't regret it at all. I think that Łódź was the place for me and I learnt many new things here. The most important thing here has been the people.

AR: What are some of the most significant things that you take away from the experience?

PG: One thing I learnt for sure is that I hate methods. They don't work for me. So I started going my own way. Literature teaches me the most. There you can learn the real history of people. I didn't realise that War and Peace would be so important for me. This is the way I came to know about humanity. That's what I think an actor should be: humanity. Humanity is the key to our work.

I also learnt that I don't like film work so much, and I'm less interested in pursuing it. I don't feel the energy in the same way on a film set. In theatre I know that I can make a move from my heart and soul and that I can bring everything I have inside me to the performance. Also, the connection with the audience is important. So I see it like this: work in theatre - great. Work in film - OK.

AR: Tell me about working on the second Diploma Show, Angels in America, in which you play a very challenging role: Roy Cohn. Were you familiar with Kushner's play before you started rehearsals?

PG: I'd heard about it but I didn't know the play before we started reading it. And my first thought was that it's a very hard text for young actors to do, very challenging. In particular, the role of Roy...well, I wondered if I could reach the level of playing this historical person. Of course, everyone knows the TV series version, with Al Pacino in the role. So I thought: Oh my God! I'm 23. How can I do it?!

Kamil Rodek and  Paweł Głowaty in Angels in America
Filip Szkopiński)

AR: So what was the process like? 

PG: I did a lot of research into him, and watched video footage closely. I was amazed by this strange energy he had. The way he looked at people. I was amazed, but scared too. Gradually I started to catch his mindset... And then - I don't know exactly how it happened - but my posture was different, my voice changed, I started moving my hands in a certain way. There was this transfomation.

AR: How does is it feel to play someone people tend to hate?

PG: During School I almost always played bad guys. Because of my not so "cute" face, I suppose! So when [director] Gosia Bogajewska told me "Paweł, you'll be Roy Cohn", I thought "Oh, it happened again!" I read an article online when I was preparing which described Cohn as "the worst homosexual in history." He was the person he himself could hate the most. He was anti-Semitic - and Jewish. Homophobic - and gay. All of this self-loathing was there. Playing a bad guy is not so hard for an actor, but playing a bad guy with different angles and levels - that's the challenge.

AR: Is it the actor's duty to make such a character "sympathetic"?

PG: A few performances ago I started to play the last scene not just with anger but with huge sadness and desperation. He's losing everything, and you need to feel that. I started to discover it more and more. The mother of Robert Ratuszny, who plays Prior, told me: "During most of the play I hated your character but at the end I felt something different." That was important to me. That people see him as something more than "the worst homosexual in history" and that you find some different colours. I especially like playing that last scene. It's intense, I'm sweating... But I feel like I have wings there.

AR: Angel wings, I guess... What was it like to meet with Joseph Mydell who played Belize in the original National Theatre production and who saw your production when he visited Łódź?

PG: It was a beautiful moment. We saw how moved he was and it seemed that the production had connected him to the past and given him some strong memories. That was very important for us.

(Photo: Tomasz Wysocki)
AR: Which theatres in Poland do you like?

PG: I admire the work of Teatr Powszechny in Warsaw, for one, because they focus on the Polish reality. I think at this time in our country it's important for theatre to be an oppositional force ... to stand against the not so colourful reality. I think that's the destiny of theatre.

AR: And what do you think of the condition of Polish cinema at the moment?

PG: I think it's having a renaissance. There are some great young directors. The 90s was not a good time for Polish film, but now it really feels like the art cinema is back in a great way.

AR: What are your plans for the future?

PG: I have a huge list of texts that I'd like to work on in future. I'm also starting to work as a director, which I like very much. When I'm directing I feel I can express more. With my collaborators, I can create a world from the beginning and be responsible for the vision. I think it changed my approach to acting as well. I was thinking about taking some directing course, but after these years of study to be honest what I want most is to get out there and do things, and I feel prepared for that. Every moment is a good moment to learn.

AR: How does it feel to be at the end of your studies?

PG: There's a sense of sadness because we've been so close as a group, and a part of our lives is coming to an end. But, on the other hand, there is freedom in that, because you can fly.

Angels in America is performed for a final time at Teatr Studyjny on 18 June.