Małgorzata Szumowska and Michał Englert • Directors of Never Gonna Snow Again
“We wanted to make a film that cannot be classified”
by Marta Bałaga
- VENICE 2020: We met up with Polish helmer Małgorzata Szumowska and her long-time collaborator Michał Englert to talk about their competition title Never Gonna Snow Again
In the Venice Film Festival competition title Never Gonna Snow Again [+see also:
interview: Małgorzata Szumowska and Mi…
film profile], the first film that they have officially co-directed, Małgorzata Szumowska and Michał Englert show Zhenia (Alec Utgoff), a young masseur from Ukraine spending his days tending to the needs of a gated community. Using, well, rather unorthodox methods.
Cineuropa: Were you thinking of horror movies when deciding on the look for this empty, grey neighbourhood, or even Zhenia’s skills? I was reminded of Get Out, for example.
Małgorzata Szumowska: Not really, although quite a few people in Venice suggested they could see elements of genre cinema here. We didn’t think that way, though. I would say, however, that this movie stays with people. That’s what we wanted to do.
Michał Englert: But we also found this place a bit scary – it actually exists. It tries to create good conditions for its inhabitants, the illusion of a perfect life, and yet for us, the symptoms of actual life were almost invisible. We wanted to make a film that cannot be classified. It’s not clear whether it’s a comedy, a horror movie or anything else. I hope it’s coherent, although quite eclectically built, because we are channelling everything we like here: we cover our tracks and don’t explain everything, leaving a lot of room for the viewer to interpret it himself. It has been a day since the premiere, and many people and journalists come to us, saying: “I left the cinema yesterday, but only today am I starting to think about it all!”
Zhenia is such a mysterious figure. He doesn’t say much, but just wanders around, observing. Unlike the crazy inhabitants, pouring out all kinds of frustrations.
MS: We don’t explain who he is. He plays the role of a person who doesn’t speak Polish well, doesn’t understand everything, and that was also the case with Alec. We decided to make it a part of his character. He is a bit absent, a bit otherworldly. He seems to listen to these people, looking deeply into their souls, but he doesn’t answer.
Alec is an exceptionally talented actor, who, however, had done mainly American productions, and at the beginning, it was difficult for him to adapt to our style, based on improvisation and a small number of shooting days. As [legendary Polish actor] Janusz Gajos said about working with us: “I liked the fact that I didn’t know what I would play in 15 minutes.” This time it was different – Alec didn’t like it. He felt uncomfortable, but then he trusted us, and we got there quite quickly.
ME: Besides, for the first time in his life, he played the lead role. Our attention was always focused on him. The film was actually made in two parts, so we had some time for analysis, because it’s about changing things as we go – that’s what we do. Małgośka and I know each other well, so we don’t even have to talk. We know what needs to be done. Actors who have worked with us before know it, too, but for someone from the outside, who doesn’t fully understand our language... Hats off to Alec because he withstood it all and delivered such a wonderful performance.
This story could easily happen in other places as well, but many have asked if it was about Poland. Some local touches are certainly in there, like this new obsession with cutting down trees…
MS: We tried not to limit ourselves to one country, although some journalists have already tried to reduce everything to this socio-political dimension. This place symbolises the whole of Europe, rather than Poland. Cutting down trees is a specifically Polish problem right now, that’s true, and it’s reaching an absurd level. As well as unauthorised construction – someone asked us who gave permission for them to build this place and why there are no gardens [laughs]. I would rather explore the symbolic dimension of our film.
You show something we know only too well – people complaining about foreigners, only to quickly add that they are “tolerant, even too tolerant”.
MS: They are completely isolated. When we did our research, it turned out this happens a lot in these communities. They don’t really keep in touch – they compete. It’s all about who has a better car, who makes more money, whose house is better equipped.
ME: It’s our Polish streak: I need to be better than my neighbour.
MS: But also the result of sharp capitalism – now, even children are brought up to think about earning money, becoming lawyers or bankers. Everything is aimed at that goal. It’s actually inevitable that these people will become depressed or start abusing alcohol, because you can’t fill your life with it.
Like in that Malvina Reynolds song about people who “are put in boxes, and they come out all the same”. But Zhenia becomes what they need.
MS: He turns into their desires and fills a certain gap. He gives them a moment of silence – suddenly, they can be alone. It’s a bit like meditation. They need it, as religion has been forgotten, and all that’s left is yoga, Ayurveda and Chinese herbal pills. He is not just some boy from Ukraine: he is more of a devil or an angel, a literary figure. We only know his secret related to his mother.
ME: As we refer to the poetics of dreams in these scenes, fumbling with bits of memory, what we don’t actually explain is perhaps the most important. In life, we also remember strange things that stay with us for some reason. Instead of creating his whole biography, we were attracted to the dream.
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