Krzysztof ZANUSSI: Who shuns fear, shuns the truth
This renowned Polish film director often comes to our country. This time Krzysztof Zanussi came to Kyiv in order to speak before the representatives of the Ukrainian TV industry at the conference “Television as Business.”
Zanussi belongs with the elite of the world film direction. He has made nearly 40 movies and telefilms, a great deal of which were named best at the prestigious world film festivals. His films are often referred to as philosophical. Many of them, like Illumination, 1973, Spiral, 1978, The Constant Factor, 1980, Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease, 2000 – bring up the problems of the quest for truth, eternal values, loneliness, and the fear of death.
Few people might know that for some time Zanussi worked for Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a mediator between the government and the foreign investors. He explained to the West and East capitals about the conditions of working in a post-Soviet country, laying special emphasis on the difference in mentalities.
Zanussi’s key trait is his friendliness, a genuine interest in his interlocutor, and the willingness to open up his rich spiritual world. His aristocratism and intellectual refinement mark him out, indeed.
“Under different circumstances people behave differently. While there is a choice or choices, the violation of the usual values is obvious. I find it fascinating to observe how different Ukraine is from us, or from Russia, Czech Republic, or Slovakia.
“What is the peculiarity of Ukraine and Ukrainian thinking and mentality? I’m looking for the answers, and sometimes I find them intuitively when I see characters which I would have missed in other countries.
“The feeling of freedom, found in Ukrainians, is quite peculiar. When we say in Poland, ‘a Cossack soul,’ we certainly mean Ukrainian Cossacks and those men who would rather go to the steppe than submit to impostors.”
One of your recent works is Serce Na Dloni (And a Warm Heart) starring a famous Ukrainian actor, Bohdan Stupka. How did the work on this film go?
“It was the second time I had worked with Stupka. This actor is very popular in Poland. Despite the fact that Ukrainian is his mother tongue, he speaks a perfect Polish and Russian as he plays. And a Warm Heart is a story of shaping of the soul of a ‘new moneybag.’ It is a joint Polish-Ukrainian production by Sota Cinema Group, produced by Oleh Kokhan. Stupka was brilliant as an oligarch [the actor was awarded a silver Marcus Aurelius at the International Rome Film Festival; the movie is on at Ukraina on September 29 as part of retrospective show dedicated to Stupka’s anniversary. – Author]. I just needed Stupka for that film. It’s a hard part, and I needed a man from the East. I sometimes joke that we don’t have any oligarchs here in Poland, therefore I was looking for someone with an accent, to make the audience believe. I would define the Heart as black comedy about the rich and the poor, love and hate.
“The very cooperation with the Ukrainian team was very memorable for me, but then problems started: the Mi-nistry did not keep its word, since it was already the government-to-government level rather that of individual producers. Luckily, after two years of strife we managed to find a way out.
“Stupka coped with the mission, which was to show the soul of Ukraine. Ukrainians are a nation that identifies its mentality anew. All imitations and reproductions, which are being made now (and especially in Russia nowadays), churn out what was common for the former Soviet countries. But I’m interested in what is specifically Ukrainian and what makes Ukraine distinct from other nations.”
What role do you think TV plays for viewers today?
“Present-day television has two aspects. First, it is business: it has to satisfy people’s needs to gain a profit. Second, television has a mission, which is the shaping of the viewer’s individual standpoint, and the urge towards the improvement of society. This is true for both state-run and commercial TV channels, although the business component dominates the commercial broadcasting. Social television puts mission first.”
What is the main thing the present-day creators of films and TV should remember?
“I believe social responsibility to be the key aspect in the creating of a mass product. In other words, there is a certain scale of values for every project. Anyone engaged in the creation of present-day film and television should clearly realize what must be done for the common good of their society or nation at any given moment.”
Have you ever had a moment when, after finishing another film, you thought, “That’s it, that’s the most I can do. I’ve put my heart and soul into this!”
“In fact, all my films are better or worse, but I have always thought that I could have done better. If I were to make a film which I would believe to be my masterpiece, I would shut up then. It’s no use ruining the impression after a masterpiece is made. But I haven’t had this yet.
Radio Liberty’s Russian service recently debated the importance of art responding to the events at home. How much do you think an artist should be involved in social life?
“It is important since our social life is very complicated. If we had regular democracy, it would be way easier. But if it switches from politics to ethics, if such phenomena as the humiliation of the nation and total lies appear, then didactic tone is out of place.
“On the other hand, people of politics and arts are always public due to mass media. People pay attention to us, so we must be responsible. It’s impossible to be a well-known man, famous for some achievements in art, but totally obscure in terms of personal life. If someone positions himself as a moralist, but does not pay taxes, people can instantly sense a lie.”
Does a film director have to impose self-censorship?
“Censorship doesn’t always do good. However, there should always be some self-restraint, because we have some ‘animal’ impulses, which should be kept in check. It’s important to have a sense of proportion in art. An artist who has lost this sense is a bad master. It looks more like hysteria.”
What is a good film in your opi-nion?
“If, having seen a film, read a book, listened to some music, or visiting a theater or cinema I can better understand the world I live in, and thus I have risen higher in the spiritual sphere than I had been before I entered the movie house, then the film was good. Something said explicitly to the end lacks mystery. Mental reservation is a must if we want to approach mystery. This is just the principle which applies to arts in general: who has said everything has got into didactics, which is contrary to art. We share with the viewer instead of teaching them. Instructing is good for school.”
Is it possible to “train” the viewers to watch quality films?
“This is a matter of upbringing: whether one wants to grow or is satisfied with what one has, and will not become more intelligent and sensitive. People who have gone a long path of evolution – and the entire generation has ‘risen’ high nowadays – are very tired, and often they are afraid of new assignments. This is a difficult kind of audience, incapable of making an effort in order to rise even higher and question the value of the confidence they have achieved.
“They resemble the weary physicists of the 19th century who hoped that classical physics had explained everything already. And suddenly and unexpectedly there came Einstein, Bohr, and several other scientists who said, ‘No, it’s all not the way you’ve thought it is! We are starting to work from a scratch, and this is just a little fragment which explains something, yet not everything.’ Even today we see how little we know in fact – and we thought we knew it all. For a man who has learned a lot, this sort of admission is hard to make.”
You studied physics and philosophy, and you are a believer. What impact does it have on your work?
“I’ll leave this to critics. If art has sincerity, it has reflection. There is a sort of harmony in this. I believe that faith must be intelligent, just as intelligence cannot be restricted to faith. I have often come across this in physics: most of my professors were believers, but they believed differently. They were open to what is main in faith – to the feeling of mystery and holiness… To have this kind of sensitivity is most important, and later it can take various shapes. Religion is a form of this sensitivity. Watch a good movie, and it’ll make you spiritually richer.”
How did you get the idea of making a movie about Pope John Paul II?
“It was both a commission and an urge. It was my civic duty to make a film about the great Pole who became Pope and head of the Catholic Church. I could not say ‘no’ and leave the film to some American director. I made the name of the film ring of the name of a faraway country, to explain to people where John Paul II came and what and whom he represents.”
Speaking of sincerity, I just remembered Pablo Picasso’s words, “He who is sad is sincere.” Do you think real art should be sad?
“You have trodden on dangerous ground, this can trigger a very long talk. If we agree that the drama of our existence is horrible and not sad, of course it will be more comfortable for us to leave this drama. Today’s culture is a culture of an endless carnival. But we can’t afford an endless carnival. We should take a bold look at our condition, weakness, and dependence on everything, from a tsunami to the world crisis. It weighs upon all of us, but we don’t understand that this is not sad, it’s scary. The thing is, he who shuns fear, shuns the truth! We can be saved by hope if one has it and believes that everything around has a master, God, and it’s all done because He would do so.
“And if someone does not believe in this, the truth becomes even scarier. This is what Camus or other great men of the last century felt. Picasso is right – but it is scary rather than sad. However, there also is a level of understanding of one’s own existence, which is a value in itself. A little animal can see the rat’s perspective. And if someone agrees to live in a carnival, they take the rat’s perspective, which only knows carnivals.”
Today, global values are leveled.
“I think they condescend even to primitive individuals who are way behind the high levels of development. That is why I see globalization as a colossal opportunity for humanity, it is saving our development. Globalization isn’t worth individual worries – it’s man’s mistake. The process itself does not define that.”
The Day’s FACT FILE
Krzysztof Zanussi is one of the best known Polish film, television, and theater directors and script writers.
In 1955-59 Zanussi was a student of physics at the University of Warsaw, in 1959-62 – a student of philosophy at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. When at university, Zanussi became interested in film. He made 11 amateur films, 9 of which were awarded various prizes. From 1971 to 1981, Zanussi was vice president of the Association of Polish Filmmakers. Since 1980 he has been manager/director of TOR Film Studio. He works as a director at the theaters of Milan, Palermo, Bonn, Krakow, Bremen, Syracuse, Kyiv, Novosibirsk, Rome, etc. In 2007 he produced Little Matrimonial Crimes at the Ivan Franko National Theater.
By Ihor SAMOKYSH, The Day