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Malgorzata Szumowska • Director

“Polish people really believe in ghosts”


- BERLIN 2015: Cineuropa talked to Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska, whose film Body is screening as part of the competition at Berlin

Malgorzata Szumowska  • Director

Malgorzata Szumowska has returned to the Berlin International Film Festival with her newest feature, Body [+see also:
film review
interview: Malgorzata Szumowska
interview: Malgorzata Szumowska
film profile
. Cineuropa talked to her about her inspiration.

Cineuropa: What inspired you to make this film?
Malgorzata Szumowska: The inspiration to make the film came out of the human body somehow. We started to think about making a movie about anorexia, but very quickly we decided not to do that, as that is a very hermetic topic, and that kind of movie might be extremely brutal and probably not understandable for the audience. But what was left was the character of Olga and also the relationship with the body. We found it extremely interesting, and then on top of that, we added in a prosecutor who has a relation to dead bodies, and he confronts death every week, probably. And Anna doesn’t care about the physical body, but she is searching for a kind of spiritual body.

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Two of Bodys leading characters harm their bodies, while Anna treats hers well. Why is that?
Anna respects her body because she is educated, but at the same time, I think she doesn’t care in a sexual way. She’s not open to the sexual aspect of her body, and she replaces it through her work. She loves her work; it is her passion. All of these characters try to replace something, and all of them build up a kind of illusion. Like the prosecutor - he works, and he can only be at work, because he doesn’t know how to take care of his daughter. The daughter is only concentrating on eating or not eating; it’s also a kind of obsession and an escape from reality. And Anna is also escaping. 

Are you portraying a particular part of Polish society in this film?
I wanted to portray a part of Polish society because each movie needs a background. Poland is sometimes partly absurd, it’s partly surreal, and that’s why we use it as a background. We wanted to show this story superimposed upon the Polish reality.

Can you tell us about the black humour in the film?
At the beginning, we wanted to make it funny. Not totally funny, of course, but more of a black comedy mixed with a drama. We were really afraid about whether it would work out. At the first Polish screening, the people didn't laugh, and we were disappointed, but then here everyone was laughing. Each reviewer mentions that it's a comedy, and that also surprised us because we thought we were in the middle, between drama and comedy. I see that the European audience treats it more like a comedy. I like that.

You work with both professional and non-professional actors in this film. How did you find your actors?
I found the non-professional actors, the girls, on Facebook. I’m not on Facebook, but a friend of mine who is very familiar with it put an announcement out on it that we were searching for amateur, skinny girls, and that’s how we found Justyna, who plays Olga, and the rest of the group. 

How and why did you choose the locations for this film?
Warsaw is a bit like Berlin. Also, I think in Berlin you can find areas that are not very nice and a lot of ugly things because it’s characteristic for that kind of city. The city was built by the communists, and that’s a specific architecture that may be ugly, but it’s also very beautiful. Warsaw is like this; you have a hipster cafe, very posh organic food, and on the corner you have Polish reality, as it is in the film. And I wanted to feature that part, as featuring the posh part is boring because that’s everywhere. In Poland, it’s mixed. In Warsaw, everything is mixed. 

Is the spirituality portrayed in Body particular to Polish society?
Of course, Polish people really believe in ghosts. That’s why I’m very interested in how they take the movie. It comes from Christian tradition, paradoxically. I don’t believe in them, but the people around me do. I’m not making fun of believing in ghosts, because I think it’s an amazing part of life; it’s necessary, and it might protect you from a very harsh reality. I show a lot of warmth towards the spiritual group in my film because at the end, Anna is doing a good job.

Could the title have been changed to one of the other elements in the film?
Yes, it could have been "Soul", but that's very pretentious. Body sounds better. 

What was your intention behind the open ending?
For me, it was that they finally found each other. She developed an eating disorder, he became a workaholic, and they cannot meet, they cannot see each other. And suddenly, they sit in front of each other and see each other for the first time. Sometimes we miss something that is right next to us. Anna brought them together again.

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