Piotr Domalewski • Director of I Never Cry
“I don’t really pick a subject or a story; I focus on a theme”
by Ola Salwa
- Cineuropa talked to Piotr Domalewski, whose sophomore film, I Never Cry, was presented in San Sebastián’s New Directors section and was released in his native Poland in late September
Piotr Domalewski is one of today’s emerging talents in his native Poland. His first feature, Silent Night [+see also:
interview: Dawid Ogrodnik
interview: Piotr Domalewski
film profile], was showered with accolades, including top gongs at the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia and the Polish Film Awards. His second narrative film, I Never Cry [+see also:
interview: Piotr Domalewski
film profile], opened in local cinemas on 25 September, while the world premiere took place in the San Sebastián Film Festival’s New Directors section. Currently, Domalewski is putting the finishing touches to the Netflix Original show Sexify, which he has been co-directing with Kalina Alabrudzińska.
Cineuropa: In the opening scene of I Never Cry, Ola, the protagonist, fails her driving test for the third time. How many times did you take yours before you passed it?
Piotr Domalewski: I passed the test the first time I took it, but it was a fluke. I made a mistake during the exam, and I felt like I didn’t deserve to get my licence. I was 17, but I still remember that after I returned home, I told my dad that I’d passed but that I didn’t deserve it, and I started to cry. It was probably the last time I cried in my life. Incidentally, I made the same mistake during the test that my character makes in my film, only that she failed and I didn’t.
Did you put anything else from your life in I Never Cry?
There are three elements in the story that are inspired by something I experienced or witnessed. My friend was the son of an emigrant, and he had to go abroad to pick up his father’s body. So that’s one. The second element is the fact that I was brought up in an area of Poland from which thousands of people emigrated for work, so I know “Euro-orphan” families, as we call them, very well. And last but not least – my protagonist is searching for a lost relationship with her estranged father. I have four sisters, and I watched them struggle with the same thing, although our dad was in Poland, but he had three jobs in order to support the family. So he was at home, but at the same time he wasn’t.
Why did you choose a female protagonist? It’s not an obvious choice in Polish cinema.
I created fairly challenging circumstances for the main character, and I felt that a female protagonist would give me a better, bigger emotional range. Emotions are something that interest me immensely, and I focus on them in my storytelling. I thought that travelling abroad for a parent’s body would be more difficult for a teenage girl than it would be for a teenage boy, for many reasons. Additionally, the protagonist of my previous film is a man, so it felt natural to focus on a woman this time.
Zofia Stafiej, who plays Ola, appears on screen for the first time in your movie. What made you believe that she was right for the part?
Over 1,200 people came to audition, so I chose Zofia from a really large group. She had the strength of character, sensitivity and freshness that were required for the part. She also lived in Dublin for two years with her father, who went there for work, while her mother and brother stayed in Poland, so having experienced a temporary family “break-up”, she knew exactly what the story was about.
Ola is like a force of nature: nothing is able to stop her. In almost every scene, she is moving: riding a bus, flying a plane, running or walking.
This is something that we have in common: I also like to be on the move constantly, and my safe haven is the subway… Initially, she thinks that she went to Ireland to get one specific thing done. She goes and acts rashly, which makes every obstacle more painful and throws her off balance.
It seems as though I Never Cry is the first film about the mass economic emigration that changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Poles after the country joined the European Union in 2005. Why do you think that no one tackled this subject sooner?
It’s more a question of how and why directors choose the subjects of their films. I feel like now, more and more artists are looking for “big” topics and “larger than life” characters, which is not really my cup of tea. Personally, I don’t really pick a subject or a story; I focus on a theme. And in this case, it was the theme of looking for a lost bond with an estranged parent. It seemed to me that the story of the “Euro-orphans” fitted perfectly here. It’s not that easy to make a film about “average” people, especially when it comes to convincing producers and decision makers to support such a movie. But luckily, I was able to do that.
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