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“I love to build new worlds in my films”

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Kuba Czekaj • Director

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- BERLIN 2017: Cineuropa talked to emerging Polish filmmaker Kuba Czekaj about his latest feature, The Erlprince, screening in the Berlinale’s Generation section

Kuba Czekaj  • Director

After directing several award-winning short films, Kuba Czekaj has unveiled his latest feature, The Erlprince [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Kuba Czekaj
film profile
]
, in the Berlinale’s Generation section. The Polish director revealed to Cineuropa that The Erlprince was supposed to be his first feature outing, and discussed the differences and similarities between his debut, Baby Bump [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Kuba Czekaj
film profile
]
, and his sophomore effort.

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Cineuropa: The Erlprince was originally meant to be your first feature outing, whereas Baby Bump is your sophomore feature; however, Baby Bump was released before The Erlprince. How did that happen?
Kuba Czekaj
: It’s quite complicated. When I started writing the script for The Erlprince, it was supposed to be my feature debut, but we had some problems closing the budget. Even though we had almost the right amount of financing in place, it was still not enough to cover everything. We arrived at that crucial moment when we were able to start shooting but we still hadn’t got the project greenlit. I’d heard about Biennale College Cinema at Venice, so I submitted my treatment for Baby Bump, and around that time, I received two pieces of good news: we could make Baby Bump, and we had enough finances for The Erlprince. I decided to make both films simultaneously. We started shooting The Erlprince, and during the break between the shooting phases, we shot Baby Bump. It was a very crazy and intense period in my life that lasted almost one year.

Both films deal with the same subject, coming of age. How did you keep the projects separate, without one interfering with the other?
It was risky to be making two films on the same subject – growing up – so I was trying to find a key for each film, respectively. That’s why Baby Bump revolves around the body and the sexual transformation related to growing up, while in The Erlprince, we dug deeper into the protagonist’s mind and soul. Thanks to this clear distinction between the two, I was able to find a clear form for both films, and I could even say that both stories create an informal diptych about growing up. In the case of The Erlprince, where we deal with Goethe and Romanticism, I knew the film had to be dark, gloomy and much more focused on the mind and the emotions. Baby Bump is more like a comic-book style – it attacks you, and we played more with images – whereas The Erlprince is more open and the characters talk differently, so it was important to devise two different ways of making those films.

In Baby Bump and The Erlprince, you are always looking at the world through a child’s eyes. Why?
My previous works have always been described as reality through a child’s perspective. I am sure that this is the most important moment in our lives. When you are 11 or 12, you are like an open book with blank pages. And when you become an adult, these little things written in your book influence you. For me, as a filmmaker, it enables me to explore what possibilities cinema gives us. I love, and have always loved, to build new worlds in my films. It is like a journey. I invite the audience to take a trip with me, to an island or maybe another space, to embark on a strange voyage together. When addressing the subject of growing up, I feel freedom as a director, in terms of form, structure and dramaturgy. And these things help me to explore my stories and characters.

How did Goethe, Shostakovich and science-fiction elements all wind up in one film?
Regarding Shostakovich, it was kind of a joke. We had this very fundamental scene in The Erlprince where the boy has a birthday party, and this particular composition by Shostakovich, “Waltz No. 2”, is almost notoriously used in scenes with a lot of people around. And what we have is a very lonely situation with a mother and her son, and nobody is coming to the party. That’s why it is kind of an inside joke. When I was reading the poem by Goethe – and maybe this is just my interpretation – it binds together all of these questions about life, God and what lies behind our life, and that represents what the protagonist is doing, the theory of parallel worlds, which I associated with Goethe’s poem. Even though we talk about physics in the story, for me, it is all about philosophy. The Erlprince is also about the period in your life when you start to ask these big, important and crucial questions about life, death and God. As for the science-fiction elements, this comes from my childhood, when I used to only watch crazy films, either sci-fi movies or horrors, so this may be some kind of subconscious influence. 

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