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Urszula Antoniak • Director

“Cinema is universal”

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- After the success of Nothing Personal, Urszula Antoniak returns with Code Blue, recently awarded at the Netherlands Film Festival

Urszula Antoniak • Director

After wowing audiences at Locarno and later in theatrical release in countries ranging from Spain to the U.S.A. with her cinematic debut, Nothing Personal [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Urszula Antoniak
interview: Urszula Antoniak
film profile
]
, the Netherlands-based Polish director Urszula Antoniak continues to operate outside of her comfort zone for Code Blue [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, in which we follow a middle-aged nurse at a Dutch terminal ward. The film premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes, where it caused some controversy.

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Cineuropa: When did you start working on Code Blue?
Urszula Antoniak: It starts for me with an experience that gets into my system and gives me stuff for reflection. In the case of Code Blue, it was death of someone I loved. As a director you climb the mountain again with each film. But with Code Blue I consciously took more risk by choosing the taboo subject of death. Nothing Personal [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Urszula Antoniak
interview: Urszula Antoniak
film profile
]
was lyrical, Code Blue is challenging, controversial.

To what extent are the female protagonists of the two films related?
Both characters choose their place in life. Anne in Nothing Personal chooses solitude and doesn’t need to do much to secure her place besides fighting with cold and hunger. Marian in Code Blue chooses to be invisible which is not that hard when you’re a middle-aged woman. Neither search anything in particular but their solitary worlds are disturbed by unwanted intimacies – this is the similarity I see between the two films. Both characters are ultimately redeemed by the intimacy they encounter. In case of Marian, an extreme character, the redemption is appropriately extreme.

Death is present in both films; how or why is death “cinematic”?
Death is the main component of life thus cinematic per definition and also our last taboo. Sex sells, death doesn’t because we are afraid of its visceral horror and do not want to ponder its spiritual context. In Code, Marian is Death who lives among us. It is more than a metaphor. For me it is reality many of us try not to see.

How would you describe Marian’s relationship to the dying?
Marian’s patients are terminally ill and she wants to include herself in their death. Which is more what many families do for their loved ones. One patient allows her to inject him, another resists and fights. In the first case she is “Death according to Heidegger,” the experience we are consciously approaching. In the second one she is “Death according to Levinas,” a murderer approaching at night. The second experience leaves Marian in doubts. It’s the beginning of her becoming human.

Did the small controversy in Cannes over the “shocking contents” help or hurt the film?
It was caused not so much by the film but by the note placed in the cinema, which wasn’t a standard note like, “This film features scenes that could shock the sensitivity of some viewers” but read: “Some scenes may hurt the audience feelings”. Such an awkward note might actually hurt the film itself. But Code Blue evokes strong feelings. Some people are shocked, some disturbed, many are profoundly moved. It leaves no one indifferent.

Do you feel that Code Blue is a film that’s more Dutch than Nothing Personal? Or could it have been set anywhere? Your two main actors are not Dutch…
I’ve chosen the best actors for the roles and Lars Eidinger happens to be German and Bien de Moor Belgian. Cinema is universal. The last director who was trying to make national cinema was Leni Riefenstahl. Casting is like falling in love. You see a person and knows he or she is – rather than can play – the character you had in mind. Bien has charisma. It’s the rare quality of uniting strong oppositions that results in us being actually seduced and glued to the screen. Bien is fragile and powerful, moving and appalling, tender and cruel. While working with her and Lars, we were discussing themes, emotions, feelings contained in scenes. This kind of direction can be compared to abstract painting, while working on psychology of character is like figurative painting – always giving an illusion of the real.

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