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Xawery Żuławski • Director of Bird Talk

“This film is anti-fascist, it’s really that simple”


- Cineuropa met with Polish filmmaker Xawery Żuławski, celebrating the world premiere of his latest film Bird Talk at the New Horizons International Film Festival

Xawery Żuławski  • Director of Bird Talk
(© Maziarz Rajter)

In Bird Talk [+see also:
film review
interview: Xawery Żuławski
film profile
, his third feature following the acclaimed Snow White and Russian Red [+see also:
film profile
, Xawery Żuławski plays around with a script written by his late father Andrzej – cult filmmaker of The Main Thing Is to Love and Possession fame – all the while taking a close, unforgiving look at his own country. We met up with him at the New Horizons International Film Festival.

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Cineuropa: All the characters in your film seem so fluid. The protagonist, played by Sebastian Fabijański, seems at times to be playing you, but at other times, not at all.
Xawery Żuławski:
This film is all about intuition. I decided to blur the boundaries between reality and fiction because Andrzej Żuławski was my father, but he also influenced other filmmakers. We wanted to pay tribute to his work and I invited Piotr Kielar, Jacek Borcuch and Jan Komasa to collaborate, with each of us looking for his energy in our own way. Ultimately it didn’t work out, and it probably wasn’t something my father would have wanted, but thanks to them I gained faith in his text. I understood it doesn’t have to revolve around my personal experience. Most of what he wrote made it into the movie, but [actor] Daniel Olbryski doesn’t play my father. Even though some people seem to think so.

Probably because in one scene he is surrounded by family souvenirs and movie posters?
There are some suggestions, but I will say this: He is called Gustaw and all these souvenirs belong to Andrzej. At first I wanted to erase his name, but the crew convinced me otherwise. That’s the game – where is reality and where is fiction? Our family relations did not look like that. I don’t have a brother who is a painter and has only one eye, but my father did. So maybe there, in this house of my quasi-father, the main character doesn’t play me at all? Maybe he just plays himself, Sebastian.

Your father left more texts behind. Did he give you this one specifically?
I didn’t run into his library right after his death, feverishly digging for something I could turn into a movie. It was a gift. He said, “Read it and do what you want with it.” That’s it. It was only later that producer Marcin Wierzchosławski called me up saying he has the same text, asking if I would like to direct it.

We Poles will understand this film best. It’s about our cultural code and if you have graduated from high school and read several books, you will get it. I am aware that when a foreign viewer will see this burning Warszawa, he will only see a car on fire. How is he supposed to know its name or its backstory? Sure, we could have gotten rid of these inside jokes, but only through them will you understand something about rejected artist Andrzej Żuławski, who couldn’t make films in his own country. Even though he really wanted to.

Abroad, his name has been celebrated for years but less so in Poland. It almost seemed like there wasn’t any space for his films.
We haven’t really analysed this matter, but there is certainly an answer to that. One that’s connected to something that’s inside of us, a problem that has become only too visible nowadays: we have a problem with tolerance, diversity and individuality, after having experienced a regime that has been suppressing all this for 50 years. We were all supposed to be one homogeneous mass – it’s still in our genes. And Poland, instead of opening up, shuts itself off from the rest of the world. And from my father’s strange, ‘wild’ creations. 

When did he write this script? After watching the film, for all I know it could have been yesterday.
About 6 years ago. It works like a mirror – it reflects the present. It’s hard for me to explain, but it does feel very current. In 10 years it would probably be the same, because it’s about dialogue above all else: this titular ‘bird talk’, the language of artists. Few years ago there was a group of kids, they put a trash can over their teacher’s head and filmed the whole thing. For someone as intellectually sensitive as my father, it was a preview of things to come. That something like this is already happening and we aren’t doing anything about it.

And so, we just wait?
We wait for whatever will happen next and frankly, it’s not even funny anymore. It’s not about some one-off incident – the whole world is talking about us. It touched him deeply, this black force slowly coming our way. In my opinion, this film is anti-fascist. It’s really that simple.

We would often say that, in order to make Bird Talk, we needed to liberate ourselves first. Because in all likelihood – in all likelihood, because none of us were actually there – my father was free when he was making his films. He would always protect his freedom, aggressively so, which is why we needed to be bold while approaching this subject. We live in a world that’s coming to an end, because it has reached certain limits – same thing for cinema, we’re stuck in a system that still produces great films but kills all creativity. It’s important to choose a different path sometimes.

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