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Piotr Adamski • Director of Eastern

“I was curious to see if terms such as ‘honorary code’ or ‘vendetta’ were still important and understandable in our contemporary world”


- We talked to writer-director Piotr Adamski, whose feature debut, Eastern, has been out in Polish cinemas since 26 June

Piotr Adamski  • Director of Eastern

Cineuropa talked to Piotr Adamski, whose feature debut, Eastern, won the Awards for Best Film and Best Director at this year’s Ischia Film Festival and was released theatrically in his native Poland on 26 June. As Cineuropa learned unofficially, the film will be presented at a few more international film festivals this summer and in the autumn.

Cineuropa: Girls with guns are the protagonists of your film, and they’re also seen on the poster. This is a vivid, intriguing image. When did you first think that they would be a driving force in Eastern?
Piotr Adamski:
Very early on. My initial idea was the clash between two worlds, two orders, so to speak: that of contemporary Poland with that of ritual vendetta. The society in Eastern is extremely patriarchal, so it only made sense for the rebels to be two young girls. It was an intuitive choice, I didn’t plan to make a “female western” — this is a label my film got after its premiere. Also, as I am a heterosexual man, girls and women are more interesting on-screen characters for me. However, that doesn’t mean I won’t be making films about men in the future. As it happens, I am already developing a story with a male protagonist.

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Did you come up with the rules for the vendetta that constitutes society in Eastern? They’re very strict, literally “a life for a life”.
I was inspired by a medieval common law from a shepherd's mountain tribe, which lived in present-day Albania. It was called kanun and, interestingly enough, the community that was living by those rules was Catholic. Now, the whole thing was to see how that code would resonate with modern Polish society. I was curious to see how that mix would work, and if terms such as “honorary code” or “vendetta” were still important and understandable in our contemporary world.

And does it?
What I am observing is an intense exploitation of these concepts, especially among conservative and populist politicians, and those who generate that kind of a narrative. They use terms like “honour” in a very cynical way, and they don’t seem to have a deeper understanding of what it actually means. And that profound meaning doesn’t really fit in the modern word. Commonly, “honour” means proper and worthy behaviour and implies a punishment for not adhering to that behaviour. I guess it would be very difficult to apply that meaning of honour today, since we promote different points of view and different values. So that term doesn’t really fit — but at the same time, at least in Poland, we hear political groups repeat the three words “God, honour, homeland” all the time.

After your film was released, it was compared with Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth [+see also:
film review
interview: Yorgos Lanthimos
film profile
. Did you have that in mind while developing your own movie?
That comparison follows me everywhere… I respect the Greek New Wave, that kind of cinema is very challenging, and I think that Lanthimos’ films are the most approachable. I wasn’t inspired by Lanthimos, but I understand where this comparison is coming from. Both Dogtooth and Eastern are conceptual in a sense that they combine two different realities and create bizarre on-screen worlds. That kind of thinking comes from my background as a visual artist, my works were conceptual, too.

Your short film was set in an art gallery. The main exhibit was a dying artist lying on a hospital bed.
It clashed two different orders, too, the personal and the profane of the art gallery. These weird combinations, these hybrids, evoke something in us. We can’t clearly understand and define what it is, but they bring some type of discomfort and joy. For me as an artist, this ambiguity is interesting, because I never know where it can lead to. In the case of Eastern, it definitely created a space for an audience: they can come into the cinema and “walk around” that bizarre world.

Apart from the two girls with guns, we also have an interesting male guide in Eastern — actor Marcin Czarnik, playing the father of one of them. European audiences saw him in two László Nemes films and probably noticed that he has a very strong on-screen presence. How did you collaborate with him?
The initial concept from me and my co-writer Michał Grochowiak was that in this world, people don’t show emotions; they smother them. Emotions erupt only during a vendetta ritual. So we insisted that all elements of the film should be cold and calm, for the film to be consistent. I asked Marcin Czarnik to quiet down his emotions, because he is naturally very expressive. Once he understood the idea and construction of the world, our collaboration was excellent. He sang a song wonderfully [it can be heard in the trailer], something I added to the script two days before shooting because I felt like it was missing something.

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