Aga Woszczyńska • Director of Silent Land
“Nobody in this film is either just good or just bad; there are a lot of nuances within the personality of each character”
by Ola Salwa
- We talked to the Polish director to get the low-down on her film, which is ostensibly about the collapse of a relationship but actually tackles something far more important
Cineuropa chatted to Aga Woszczyńska, the director and co-writer of Silent Land [+see also:
interview: Aga Woszczyńska
film profile], which screened in the Toronto International Film Festival’s Platform section.
Cineuropa: Would you say that the main characters – or at least one of them – represent the conscience of us Europeans?
Aga Woszczyńska: Yes! But now, I think it’s not only about Europe; it’s about the whole world. Silent Land is a film about the collapse of a relationship, but more broadly speaking, it’s about something more important that concerns me: the collapse of the value system in the modern world, the general indifference to reality, and social lethargy. Ultimately, Silent Land is a tale about alienation, not only from each other, but also from the world. It’s about conformity and passivity, where the need for safety and convenience is a strategy for survival. When the catastrophe on Lampedusa happened, I wanted to recount – but not in a literal way – how Europe, as well as my characters, was passive and blind to that tragedy. My story, unfortunately, is now timely again, as Afghanistan desperately needs help, and we are closing our eyes and our borders. I think indifference is the plague of the modern day. I would like Silent Land to make people more socially sensitive and not just shut themselves away in their homes. There’s a glimmer of hope in Adam: he is the only one who understands his mistake and takes the blame. What has to happen for us to open our eyes and ears… and borders?
Dobromir Dymecki and Agnieszka Żulewska played the leads in your short Fragments, which played in the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight. Does that mean that you’re continuing to tell the story of the same couple of characters here?
Yes. Fragments was more about Anna, while Silent Land is more about Adam. I wanted to defend this character and be proud of the change in him. After Fragments, I had the impression that my short film was too short in order to tell the story of emotional bankruptcy, as I like to label the state of my characters. I needed more screen time to let the audience understand them and maybe to forgive them, especially Adam, for their behaviour. I want to underline that nobody in this film is either just good or just bad; there are a lot of nuances within the personality of each character. But Adam is the only one who understands his mistake and takes the blame.
When something important happens, your characters are often on the edges of the frame or even outside it. Why?
I believe that the message is stronger when you do not provide any answers – literality causes a lack of imagination. I made this film with my brilliant cinematographer Bartosz Świniarski. We made Fragments together, so we knew exactly what Silent Land would look like in terms of the framing, lenses, mise-en-scène and so on. We used mostly 35 mm lenses in the first act, and later on, we used 40 and 50 mm ones. The film is about distance – emotional, social and physical – so there are almost no close-ups. The camera is static, or there are long takes. Most of the scenes were done in one shot. The framing was very important for us, as a lot of crucial moments do indeed happen beyond the frame. For me, cinema starts when the words end, when the image is the thing that communicates emotions and meanings. That is why I decided not to have them speak so much.
Sound also plays an important role in building the emotional landscape of the film.
There is no music as such in Silent Land. I would argue that the meticulous sound design in my film is, in fact, a kind of soundtrack. To me, music emphasises the emotions and tells you, “Now, you have to cry. Now, you have to be scared. Now, you have to laugh.” And I didn’t want any of that. I didn’t want to lead my audience anywhere; I just wanted them and the screen, nothing more. And I’m so happy that I found a partner who wanted to tell this silent tale with me. Marek Poledna is an extremely talented sound designer from the Czech Republic.
Some have compared the mood of your film to the works of Antonioni and Haneke. Are they your points of reference, or perhaps you find works by other directors more inspiring?
I’m very happy and proud about these comparisons. Antonioni and Haneke are definitely my greatest teachers! My love for cinema began with Antonioni’s trilogy. But I don’t watch their films over and over again; most of them I’ve seen only once. What inspires me the most are the people I meet and current issues that require a strong commentary, in my opinion. There is nothing, no art form, that would inspire me more than reality itself.
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