Borys Lankosz • Director
by Dorota Hartwich
21/06/2010 - Born in 1973, Polish director Borys Lankosz made a successful feature debut with The Reverse [trailer, film focus], which tells the story of a young woman and her fierce opposition to lying, treachery and manipulation, against a backdrop of Stalinism in 1950s Poland. At home, the film was hailed as one of the major revelations of recent years and the director has been catapulted into the position of leader of the new Polish Film School.
Cineuropa: The Reverse is a rare example of a film that appeals to audiences, professionals and critics alike. Honoured at last year’s Gdynia Polish Film Festival by the jury (seven awards in total, including the Grand Prize) and viewers (Audience Award), it was well received in Polish theatres and acclaimed by critics (FIPRESCI Prize at the Warsaw Film Festival). The film has now been selected for the Karlovy Vary Festival in the Variety Critics’ Choice section. Was it your intention at the outset to make such a universal film and were you expecting such a response?
Borys Lankosz: The film’s success has exceeded all my expectations. It’s true that my team and I put all our heart into this production. I also think I managed to touch the unconscious of Polish people who still live with the ghosts of the past, invisible ghosts but ones that influence us profoundly. I think that the film can evoke a sort of catharsis through laughter, not silly laughter but intelligent laughter, which makes it possible to drive away those demons of the past and banish them. This film is a metaphor not only of Stalinism but of all forms of totalitarianism.
The film has enjoyed immense success in very different countries. It has just won an award at Seattle, was very well received in Moscow and presented in Kiev. Do the audiences react differently?
It’s possible that US viewers watch this film from the deeper perspective of their specific experience of totalitarianism, taking as their reference McCarthyism, for example. There’s no doubt that their code of interpretation is completely different from ours: they’re not able to understand the symbolic dimension of the details, especially in the final scenes of the film. But these details are not critical for understanding the film. I made this film out of a love for cinema and I think that viewers can fully sense this. So it is other elements that make the film attractive, like the way it plays with genres and cinematic conventions.
Before this debut narrative film, you made documentaries in Iran, China and Zimbabwe. What was your main objective as a director back then and do you have the same one today?
After film school, I told myself it would be better to make films that have significance for audiences rather than indulging in navel-gazing. Documentaries enabled me to get to know both the world and myself better. So it was more a human experience than that of a director. In Poland, it is often considered that making the transition from documentaries to narrative films is a sort of noble progression. I don’t agree. It’s true that you can breathe with just one lung but to achieve plenitude you must breathe with both.
You’re also well-known for taking an interest in Jewish issues (Stranger VI, Radegast). Is this subject still important in your work?
It’s the critics who made me realise that many of my films broached this issue. It’s not so much about the Jewish question, but rather the broader issue of being an outsider. I had the impression I was making very different films, but I discover as I go along that they almost all have something in common. In terms of the subject matter, my decisions are unconscious. I don’t look for the subjects, they find me. I’m convinced you shouldn’t force subjects, they come of their own accord. It’s just a question of the sensitivity of one’s radars and mine are always on alert.