Marcin Krzyształowicz • Director of Mister T.
“Who doesn’t want to be an anarchist?”
by Marta Bałaga
- Cineuropa talked to Marcin Krzyształowicz, director of Mister T., already a subject of some controversy in its home country, Poland, where it is set to be released on Christmas day
Already a subject of some controversy in Poland — with local journalists looking for similarities with Diary 1954 by Leopold Tyrmand, one of the most iconic writers of the Polish post-war period — Marcin Krzyształowicz’s fictional drama (or is it a comedy?) Mister T. [+see also:
interview: Marcin Krzyształowicz
film profile] dives into the black-and-white world of a struggling writer in the 1950s (Paweł Wilczak), torn between the oppressive system he needs to navigate and his own wild imagination. Kino Świat is releasing the film locally on Christmas day, and we’ve discussed it with its director.
Cineuropa: What’s your take on the heated reactions the film seems to be already provoking in Poland, or rather the claims that it actually depicts the life of Leopold Tyrmand?
Marcin Krzyształowicz: The answer to this question is difficult, because we haven’t even celebrated our theatrical premiere. The only thing I can comment on is some confusion, which, once we shared our legal expertise with the journalists that were calling us out, suddenly died down. We didn’t use Tyrmand’s work at all in the film, so from the point of view of the law, or the way it functions in Poland, the situation is clear. My only regret is that these people assumed something without properly documenting it first, without even reading his Diary 1954! They said they “had consulted experts”. To me, that’s a joke.
Stories loosely inspired by actual people really aren’t that rare. Were you surprised when, all of a sudden, everyone wanted to know what in the film was true and what wasn’t?
I think we touched a nerve here. That’s what curiosity is, I would say — a bit unhealthy. What would people derive from a precise answer about who is hidden behind the letter T. of the title? Would it provoke any emotion, any reflection of an intellectual nature? I don’t think so. And you can’t really answer this question, even if it keeps coming up. It’s something I personally regret, because I hoped – and still do – that this film would conjure something more than just gossip. When we were showing it abroad, or even to the international audience at Camerimage Film Festival, nobody cared – for them, it was all about one intellectual’s fight with the system. They saw it as an anarchist movie, which I think I like. Who doesn’t want to be an anarchist?
Such an approach certainly makes this story seem more universal.
Everyone can adjust their own reality to it, hence the opinion that it’s a bit anti-Trump. It’s all a bit simple, really, as Mister T. is a story about how the outside world doesn’t let you be who you are. Sure, there is some local context as well, as for the Polish viewers “Zbysiu” will probably bring to mind [acclaimed poet] Zbigniew Herbert. But for anyone else, he is just a friend of the main character. I think we passed the test of universality and everyone can recognise the Kafkaesque feel of this story, even if at first it may seem quite hermetic.
Over the past few years, black and white films have become a fairly common phenomenon. But in Mister T., what looks like a “respectable” storyline soon transforms into fantasy. You are showing two different worlds here!
There were a lot of questions about this black-and-white cinematography, practically from the very beginning. I didn’t want it to be sad or become burdensome for the viewer. It’s funny, because through this black-and-white world, I actually wanted to discover different shades, or even colour! And returning to the question about this double world, we knew that the story would play out on two different levels: there is this reality that surrounds him and then the world of his imagination, where he dares to oppose the system. I didn’t want the viewer to decipher it from the start, so you only realise it’s not real once you have already settled in, embracing this universe. On the surface, our protagonist is forced to participate in various absurd situations but underneath, a group of conspirators is already implementing their explosive plan. For some, Mister T. is a drama, for others a comedy. Or just some kind of a weird hybrid, because in a way, what goes on underground is also real – that’s what the artist imagines, what constitutes the material of his future book.
It’s also a way to avoid showing a writer at work – probably one of the most boring things in cinema.
It’s such a terrible cliché: a writer hammering away at his typewriter. It has been done a thousand times before, and therefore such scenes can be incredibly risky – nobody wants to watch that again! Cinema is all about exploring situations that are alive, lined with mystery and emotion. Which is why we tried to seamlessly interweave this baroque thread that takes place underground with the rest of the events, hopefully creating something new along the way. It makes up a surreal, somewhat grotesque picture, helping to understand that it’s not just about a communist government, but about power in general, always destroying the individual. And if our hero decides to fight against it, in whichever way he can, there is no choice for me but to support him.
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