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Maciej Bochniak • Director of Magnesia

“I’m a self-taught director; my university was the cinema”


- We talked to Maciej Bochniak about his Polish-set western Magnesia, which stars Dawid Ogrodnik and Mateusz Kościukiewicz, among others

Maciej Bochniak • Director of Magnesia
Director Maciej Bochniak (right) with his co-writer and actor Mateusz Kościukiewicz (© Warsaw Film Festival)

Cineuropa chatted to Polish writer-director Maciej Bochniak, whose new film, Magnesia [+see also:
film review
interview: Maciej Bochniak
film profile
, took part in the International Competition at the Warsaw Film Festival. During the entire interview, Bochniak sat with his face partially covered by a scarf, which made him look like a character in his film – a colourful western set in 1920s Poland.

Cineuropa: You have directed some very diverse movies so far: Ethiopique. Music of the Soul, a documentary about jazz in Ethiopia, Disco Polo [+see also:
film profile
, a feature about Polish disco music, and now Magnesia, a western. There is no obvious connection between these movies, so how do you look for subjects for your films? Why are they so varied?
Maciej Bochniak:
I like diversity in cinema. Also, at the beginning of my career, I decided that I would try to make every film different – in terms of its style, conventions or theme – from the previous one. That way, I thought, I would set off on a journey through cinema and its genres. So far, I have been sticking to that rule, and I find this way of working satisfying. As for the subject – sometimes I pick them and sometimes they pick me. I just try to keep my ears open and fish for interesting stories that would allow me to travel to another continent or go back in time.

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Did you find Magnesia, or did it find you?
It’s a little of both. I wanted to make a contemporary gangster film, and we nudged the script [co-written with Mateusz Kościukiewicz] in that direction. While we were writing it, I found Sergiusz Piasecki’s novels and his autobiography. He lived on the Polish-Soviet border, and his writing made it clear that it was our own “Wild East” over there; it just wasn’t well researched or widely publicised. So, after we read his books, we decided to move our story back in time and set it in between the two world wars, in the far east of Poland.

While Magnesia was in production, it was described by some as a “western, Tarantino-style”. Is that something you would agree with?
Partially, yes, but the film was inspired by a much broader spectrum of my film fascinations than just Tarantino. If you take a closer look at his body of work, you will notice his interest in Asian films: from Korea, Hong Kong or China. I took a deep dive into that cinematic area, too, and Tarantino was my guide, in a way. Later, I realised that the things that fascinate me in his films were taken from other directors and movies. It was also a good lesson to see which styles or solutions had grown old and which ones still feel fresh and modern, and work when you put them in new films. To sum up – I realised that what I like in Tarantino’s and Asian cinema is the well-balanced mix of engaging storytelling and visual showiness.

Before becoming a director, Tarantino worked in a video shop, watching dozens of films, which he later referred to in his own works. What does this “visual quoting” contribute to your work?
That’s the way, I think. I’m a self-taught director; my university was the cinema – I devoured tons of films, analysed them afterwards and listened to directors discussing their work. Actually, when you are watching first or second features by someone who went to film school, you can notice the influence of their teacher. In my case, the teacher was cinema made in the USA or Asia, so it’s only natural that I am influenced by it in my work. Sometimes, when I don’t know how to solve a problem, I close my eyes and try to remember whether I saw something similar in a different movie. Filmmakers are inspired by one another, and there is nothing wrong with that. It also provides some fun and pleasure for the audience – even if they may not recognise some of the references instantly.

It’s also like writing a love letter to other filmmakers or genres.
Definitely. In Magnesia, I wanted to pay homage to Spaghetti Westerns. I feel it’s a very special part of cinema history – the genre came from the USA, but the films were shot in Spain by Italian directors and international stars like Klaus Kinski or Clint Eastwood. It’s a controversial genre loved by some and eschewed by others; for me, it’s monumental. I discovered Spaghetti Westerns fairly recently, but I adore every element of them, including the music by Ennio Morricone, which is kitschy and enticing at the same time. Since I wasn’t able to live in the 1970s and be an Italian director, I made Magnesia in 2020s Poland.

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