Wojciech Smarzowski • Director of The Wedding Day
“Sweeping the truth about past crimes under the rug can easily lead to new crimes”
by Ola Salwa
- We chatted to the Polish director about his new film and his tendency to tackle difficult events from his country’s history
Cineuropa sat down with renowned Polish director Wojciech Smarzowski to discuss his new film, The Wedding Day [+see also:
interview: Wojciech Smarzowski
film profile], which has had its international premiere at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. Smarzowski is very popular in his native Poland, and most of his films tackle difficult events from his country’s history, even very recent ones, like his previous movie, Clergy [+see also:
interview: Wojciech Smarzowski
film profile], which revolved around paedophilia and other abuses that took place within the Catholic Church.
Cineuropa: You stopped eating meat after filming The Wedding Day. Why?
Wojciech Smarzowski: There are hens living on a surface area smaller than a sheet of paper and pigs that get only one square metre of room to roam around in. These animals are tormented, and it’s worth thinking about this while buying discounted meat. I was cutting down on eating meat already, but after the research I did for The Wedding Day, I stopped consuming it completely. All of the footage that shows the abuse of pigs was bought from the organisations fighting for animal rights. Overall, only one or two minutes of this footage ended up in the film, but it was chosen from hours of material. That also influenced my decision to become a vegetarian.
There is a saying that “man is the most dangerous game”. Do you agree with that?
Reportedly, mosquitoes kill more men than men do. People are the first runners-up, while snakes come third. People wage war, but so do ants. Are these human wars waged in the name of religion, or for money, power, lust or just for killing’s sake? I don’t think it’s only that; it’s more about the scale, about the fact that man keeps on perfecting his weapons. And he can pollute the oceans with waste, cut down the jungle – places where he wouldn’t survive for long. On the other hand, if there were a man going head to head with a tiger in a cage, my money would be on the tiger. I think it’s quite a tricky question, so I am suggesting a tie here.
You already made a film called The Wedding, but the new one is not a sequel. What is it about this ritual that is interesting for you?
A wedding, as an event, is important in Poland. It all started with Wyspiański, who wrote a drama 120 years ago about why Poland didn’t have its independence. Wajda adapted that play into a film, and both before that and after it, weddings were used as an allegory in theatre, literature and art. I made my first The Wedding at the begging of this century, when Poland had gained its independence and freedom, but needed to regain its values. Today, it’s time to regain that memory.
One of the main characters in your new film is a grandfather suffering from dementia, which is a metaphor for amnesia. Is this “amnesia”, or lost memory, the most important element in Polish-Jewish relations nowadays?
There is no nation that doesn’t have unresolved issues in its history or ones that it would prefer to be left untold or forget about. The Poles are neither better nor worse in that respect. There have been thousands of books and articles written about Jewish history and Polish-Jewish relations, but I think that this subject hasn’t got closure, so to speak, because the painful information about how the Poles behaved during World War II is not in the school books. Our kids are taught that the Poles were either heroes or victims during the war. There is no hint that we, just like any other human being, could have behaved despicably.
Your movie is about both the past and the present. The latter seems to be a little better, but still, there is a lot of hate and intolerance around.
Sweeping the truth about past crimes under the rug can easily lead to new crimes. History tends to repeat itself. If history’s worst elements find “fertile ground”, they flourish easily. They turn out to be vital and current – like the pre-war sermon I show in my film. Another thing is that the entire world has swung to the right. The gulf between the football stands and nationalistic marches has become smaller. The Polish Minister of Culture gives away generous amounts of money to Polish nationalists, and he called my film a “degenerate project”.
I think that there are two types of patriotism – a tolerant one, which is open to other human beings and different cultures, but also painful facts from our own history. The second type of patriotism is a closed one: there is a division between “us” and “them”. It’s not rivalry, but hostility. The enemy can be dehumanised by being called offensive names… And that’s just one step away from crossing the line. That’s really dangerous, and that’s one of the reasons why I made The Wedding Day.
You shot some scenes in Latvia. Which ones and why?
The pre-war world that we know from photographs and films no longer exists. Our production designer, Marek Warszewski, came up with an idea to create a small town – where the action of the film takes place – out of two existing towns: Poland’s Nieszawa and Latvia’s Tukums. We also found the home of the main protagonist in Latvia; we spent two months there, and the Latvians became our co-producers.
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