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Małgorzata Szumowska

Małgorzata Szumowska photographed by Alexandra Fleurantin/Kino Świat
Małgorzata Szumowska photographed by Alexandra Fleurantin/Kino Świat

Film director, born in 1973 in Kraków.

Małgorzata Szumowska is the daughter of journalist and writer Dorota Terakowska and journalist and filmmaker Maciej Szumowski, sister of documentary director Wojciech Szumowski. She graduated from the National Film, Television and Theatre School in Łódź in 1998. Prior to her film studies, she read art history at Jagiellonian University in Kraków. She became a member of the European Film Academy in 2001. 

Małgorzata Szumowska has received numerous awards at international and Polish film festivals. Her film etude Cisza / Silence made it onto the list of the 14 best films in the history of the Łódź film school, while Robert Redford's Sundance Institute recognized the script for the feature film Ono / Stranger as one of the three best texts from Europe.

Małgorzata Szumowska is among the most famous female directors of the young generation. With three full-length features to her credit - her debut Szczęśliwy człowiek / Happy Man (2000), followed by Stranger (2004), and 33 sceny z życia / 33 Scenes From Life (2008) she has also made several documentaries and short films. Many of them received a lot of publicity, though the critics were most often divided in their views. 

What sets Małgorzata Szumowska's work apart from that of other filmmakers is primarily a private approach to her projects, and a serious tone which lends importance to issues and people that are not headline news for color magazines, that are not reported on the front pages of crime columns nor shown on prime-time television.

This is a conscious choice. She invokes her maestro, Wojciech Has, who worked with her on her first film, remarking that he "hated ... shallow realism. ... He demanded that we set ourselves free of the banality of journalism, not cling to realism like a mother's apron, not be afraid of metaphors, and treat narrative as 'a secondary consideration'" (Tygodnik Powszechny 24/2003). 

According to Szumowska, it was not the script, not dialogues were important to her in this film, because she sought "a mood, a facial expression, the light accidentally reflected off the characters' hair".

Iwona Cegiełkówna wrote that Szumowska divided cinema into two categories: "the kind which is a deep experience and leaves a lasting trace in the viewer's mind, and entertainment which provides a thrill but is forgotten as soon as you leave the cinema" (Kino 2/2002). Of course Szumowska favours the former type of cinema. In fact, she has spoken many times of her fascination with Andrei Tarkovsky, and emphasized her admiration for literature which she considers a deeper art than film.

In the earlier-mentioned conversation with Jan Strzałka, she said that in Happy Man, she hadn't been interested in "emotions, psyche, but in the character's state of mind and that unnamed something 'in between' which sometimes appears to us for five seconds". She believes those five seconds can reveal the meaning of life. In an interview for Grzegorz Wójtowicz, she said she was interested in "that something which dreams inside" herself, "spiritual regions almost inaccessible to cinema" (www.stopklatka.pl, 6 February 2003).

Happy Man, set in the gloomy scenery of Kraków's tenement houses, telling the story of an unusual triangle in which each character has been damaged by life, has a reference point in something that concerns every human being - death. This is a theme not very typical for young film directors, but one which is present in many of Małgorzata Szumowska's projects, both those - like Happy Man - made before and those - like Ono / Stranger and  A czego tu się bać? / Nothing to be Afraid of (2006) - made after both her parents passed away. She seeks the meaning of death in her films, trying to tame it, inscribe it somehow into the lives of those who are left behind.

Even Stranger, the theme of which is maturing to motherhood, the birth of life, and which many critics accused of superficiality and touching on banality, rises above itself in the scenes related to the death of the heroine's father. Lech Kurpiewski even called Stranger "a poignant story about dying". His view is that the film speaks of death without hysteria and in the most ordinary way possible. "It was meant to be a film about the beauty of life; what we get is a mature film about passing" (Film 10/2004)

The theme of death, the seriousness with which issues such as love, life, feelings are treated, is not the only distinctive feature of Szumowska's work. Talking about her much-publicized documentary debut,Silence, she said: "I don't feel like running at all, I prefer to stop and look at a tree..." (Reżyser 7-8/98).

Whether intentionally or not, it is not clear, but the maker of Silence clearly refers (and this is also true of A czego tu się bać? / Nothing to be Afraid of) to Polish documentaries of the 1960s, to mention the work of Władysław Ślesicki (Płyną tratwy / Boy And Waves, Góra / Mountain, or Rodzina człowiecza / Family of Man", made in 1966 and bearing the greatest similarity to Szumowska's Silence). Her story about the life of a Mazurian family, its everyday activities portrayed in a way that gives them value and importance, is reminiscent of that cinema. Death in Szumowska's latest documentary (Nothing to be Afraid of) becomes an organic element of everyday life and of the unchanging occupations and rhythms of nature.

All this is a little outdated, but constitutes an element of a clear programme. "I always try to see beauty in apparent monotony, ugliness, greyness", Szumowska said in an interview for Magda Lebecka. But, as she added, she herself seeks out "ultimate themes" (Reżyser, 1/2001). Bożena Janicka wrote that

in the person of Małgorzata Szumowska, Polish cinema has gained a filmmaker who can be expected to produce non-commercial films, seeking topics not on life's surface but in the stories of people often unnoticed by cinema today: those who are incapable of fighting for their rights, losers (Kino, 11/2000).

That's all true, but it does not cover all the exploring the maker of Happy Man has done as a director. Her productions also include some very personal films about her father, or rather her own perception of her father (the documentary Mój tata Maciek / My Father, Maciek, 2005, and the short feature film Ojciec / The Father, 2005, in the Solidarność, Solidarność... / Solidarity, Solidarity... series), a film which speaks for her generation but is also very private - Dokument / Documentary (2001) - about the impossibility of showing the truth in a documentary but also about the lack of a truth worth telling, or another generation project, Jeden dzień z życia Tomka Karata / One Day in the Life of Tomek Karat (1997).

It's easy to find fault with Szumowska's feature films and some of her documentaries, and the critics have been merciless sometimes, probably criticizing her debut (Happy Man) too harshly, justly pointing out the shallowness of her second feature (Stranger), but offering excessive praise to the average ethnographic reportage Nothing to be Afraid of. 

Filmography

Film etudes:

  • 1995 - Scenka 10 / Scene 10 in Niemcy / Germans, director;
  • 1996 - Zanim zniknę / Before I Disappear, short feature, director and scriptwriter;
  • 1997 - Cisza / Silence short documentary, director and scriptwriter.A family portrait. A village in Mazuria; a short impression showing the family's life, their everyday troubles, joys, time flowing slowly among nature and silence. A film without words.
    Awards: 1998 - International Festival of Film Schools, Munich, group award for the best set of films; International Film Festival, Angers, jury's special prize in the school film category; Film Festival, Bologna, jury's special prize; Polish Short Film Festival, Kraków, honourable mention; Mediaschool International Film and Television School Festival, Main Prize; Dokument-Art, Neubrandenburg, Main Prize; International Student Film Festival, Tel-Aviv, first prize in the documentary section; 1999 - Film Festival, Mexico, Main Prize; International Short Film Festival, Tampere, best documentary;
  • 2000 - Wniebowstąpienie / Ascension, short feature, director and scriptwriter with Michał Englert.The film was presented in 2000 at the Cannes International Film Festival, in the Cinefondation section, as one of 13 projects selected from 851 entries.

Documentaries:

  • 1997 - Jeden dzień z życia Tomka Karata / Dzień Tomka K. / One Day in the Life of Tomek Karat. A story about young businessmen;
  • 1999 - Siedem lekcji miłości / Seven Lessons of Love. An elderly teacher gives singing lessons to amateurs and advanced learners. A nostalgic portrait of someone not quite of our world.
    Awards: 1999 - Kraków Film Festival - National Section, special mention;
  • 2000 - Ślub w domu samotności / A Wedding in the House of Loneliness. A marriage concluded at the Wrzos Elderly Day Care Centre in Łódź's district of Bałuty. Poor people seek happiness in a relationship;
  • 2001 - Dokument... / Documentary.... Friends, colleagues, and family members who once signed the director's diary now appear before her camera. How can people be frank in a documentary? They all seem to be acting.
    Awards: 2002 - Kraków Film Festival - National Section, special mention;
  • 2005 - Mój Tata Maciek / My Father, Maciek. A biographical picture about the director's father, Maciej Szumowski;
  • 2006 - A czego tu się bać? / Nothing To Be Scared Of. The residents of a village in Mazuria speak about funeral customs. A film about familiarity with death in a traditional community.
    Awards: 2007 - Kraków Film Festival, Kraków - International Section, student jury's prize; Lubuskie Film Summer, Łagów, Golden Grape in the documentary section.

Feature films:

  • 2000 - Szczęśliwy człowiek / Happy Man, full-length psychological drama. An intimate family drama. The story of three people, their complicated relations and games aimed at achieving happiness or at least avoiding tragedy, set in the sad, poor scenery of contemporary Poland.
    Awards: 2000 - International Film Festival, Thessaloniki, Artistic Achievement Award; 2001 - Tarnów Film Awards, Tarnów, Leliwita Silver Statuette - special prize for the script; nomination for the Felix European Film Award in the discovery of the year section, recognized by "Variety" magazine as one of the 10 best films of 2001;
  • 2004 - Ono / Stranger, scriptwriter with Przemysław Nowakowski, production Poland, Germany. A young girl wants to get rid of an unwanted pregnancy but accidentally becomes unable to do so and prepares for the baby's birth. Dorota Terakowska, Małgorzata Szumowska's mother, wrote a book based on her daughter's idea. In the competition for Robert Redford's Sundance Filmmakers Award the script was recognized as one of the three best texts from Europe.Awards: 2005 - nomination for the Felix European Film Award; goEast Festival of Central and Eastern European Film, best director award;
  • 2004 - Crossroad / Skrzyżowanie, short film, also producer, production Poland, Denmark. Part of the "Visions Of Europe" cycle made for Arte television. Two young businessmen and a wayside figure of Christ which they pull from the cross;
  • 2005 - Ojciec / The Father in Solidarność, Solidarność... / Solidarity, Solidarity.... A series of 13 short films made for the 25th anniversary of the Solidarity trade union. Szumowska's docudrama is about her father Maciej Szumowski, a well-known journalist and underground Solidarity activist;
  • 2008 - 33 sceny z życia / 33 Scenes From Life, also scriptwriter, production Poland-Germany. A story of a young woman coping with the death of her parents.
    Awards: 2008 - Special Jury Award for Małgorzata Szumowska at the International Film Festival in Locarno; award for best director, journalists' award, and award of the Association of Art House Cinemas, award for best cinematography for Michał Englert, award for best music for Paweł Mykietyn, award for best supporting actress for Małgorzata Hajewska-Krzysztofik at the Polsh Film Festival in Gdynia; Zbyszek Cybulski Award and Audience Award for Maciej Stuhr.
  • 2011 - Elles / Sponsoring. Polish-French-German coproduction. The film tells the story of Anna (played by Juliette Binoche), a well-to-do journalist preparing an article on prostitution among female students. While working on the material, she meets two girls selling their bodies, Charlotte (Anaïs Demoustier) and Alice (Joanna Kulig). The young women introduce the journalist into their world of paid love: a repulsive reality. However, much to Anna's surprise - she changes her perspective. The film opened the Panorama series at the Berlinale competition in 2011. 
  • 2013 - W imię.../ In the Name of...Father Adam, the protagonist of Małgośka Szumowska's drama about unfulfillment and the constant battle between society and individuality, is a humble, much-liked pastor, a human being falling just short of clerical perfection. The man turns out not to be as candid as he appears. His relation to a young man from the village reveals the priest's homosexual desires and his struggle with  self-imposed abstinence.
  • 2014 - Body/Ciało, dir. M. Szumowska, screenplay - M. Szumowska and Michał Englert, an allegorical story about different ways people relate to their bodies. The film was selected for the Berlinale competition 2015

At Warsaw's Teatr Polonia (a theatre run by Krystyna Janda) in 2006, she produced Katarzyna Figura's monodrama Badania terenowe nad ukraińskim seksem / Field Work In Ukrainian Sex based on the book by Oksana Zabuzhko.

Author: Jan Strękowski, May 2006; filmography updated: 2008

Culture.pl
Culture.pl
2016/02/22
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Małgorzata Szumowska

Works

Body, which received an award at the 2015 Berlinale, is an example of cinema that is bold, wise, and incredibly funny. It is Małgorzata Szumowska’s best film thus far.Read more about: Body - Małgorzata Szumowska

Szumowska opens pandora's box and shows a gay priest torn between passion and social norms.Read more about: In the Name Of - Małgorzata Szumowska

A complex portrait of contemporary women and their sexuality, Małgorzata Szumowska's Elles stars Juliette Binoche is a Parisian journalist dedicated to her work, husband and son who begins to discover her limitationsRead more about: Elles - Małgorzata Szumowska

Feature film directed by Małgorzata Szumowska, 2008. It tells the story of a young woman coping with the death of her parents.Read more about: 33 Scenes From Life - Malgorzata Szumowska

Małgorzata Szumowska

Multimedia

In the Name of is a story about hope, doubt and the longing for feelings. The film's protagonist is a lonely homosexual priest who organises meetings for difficult adolescents. He hides his past form the people around him and struggles with loneliness. Read more about: Małgorzata Szumowska - In The Name Of - Video Trailer

Okładka (nid 6249949)

2011 film directed by Małgorzata Szumowska and starring Juliette Binoche. "Elles" tells the story of Anna (played by Juliette Binoche), a well-to-do journalist preparing an article on prostitution among female students. a journalist researching an article on student prostitution Read more about: Malgorzata Szumowska - Elles - Video Trailer

Małgorzata Szumowska

Articles

Tomasz Wasilewski with Silver Bear at the 66th International Film Festival in Berlin, photo: Bernd von Jutrczenka / AFP / East News

Tomasz Wasilewski, the director of United States of Love, was awarded the Silver Bear for Best Script at the 66th International Film Festival Berlinale. Read more about: Tomasz Wasilewski Wins Silver Bear at Berlinale

Still from Gods by Łukasz Palkowski, pictured: Tomasz Kot and Jan Englert, photo: Jarosław Sosiński / Watchout Productions / NEXT FILM

Łukasz Palkowski’s lauded biopic about Zbigniew Religa will have its Spanish premiere on 19th February 2016. Read more about: Gods Hits Spanish Cinemas

Zud by Marta Mironowicz, photo: Slingshot Films promo material

Marta Mironowicz’s feature film Zud depicts a story set amongst the lives of Mongolian nomads. Having qualified for the Generation Kplus competition, the film will be one of the Polish films screened during the 66th edition of the Berlinale, which started on 11th February. Read more about: Zud Competing at Berlinale 2016

Paweł Pawlikowski with the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in the press room of the 87th Academy Awards held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA, USA, February 22, 2015, photo: Lucy Nicholson / REUTERS / Forum

Culture.pl takes a look back at the best of 2015 when it came to film, visual arts, literature, theatre, music and design originating from Poland. Read more about: Best of 2015: A Look Back at the Year in Polish Culture

Pawel Pawlikowski, photo: Paweł Terlikowski / Forum

After the year 2000, a new strand of cinema emerged in Poland and went on to prove its diversity. Unlike Romanian or Greek cinema, which started concentrating on specific topics and adapting unique senses of aesthetics, Polish cinema has become even more unpredictable and exciting. Read more about: Moving into the 21st Century: Game Changers

Małgorzata Szumowska, photo: Alexandra Fleurantin/Kino Świat

Małgorzata Szumowska has been nominated for the European Film Award for Best Director thanks to her film Body. Read more about: Małgorzata Szumowska Nominated for the European Film Award

Małgorzata Szumowska

Events