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Marek Koterski

Marek Koterski, photo: Łukasz Szeląg / Reporter / East News
Marek Koterski, photo: Łukasz Szeląg / Reporter / East News

Film, documentary and theatre director, screenwriter, and playwright. Born on the 3rd of June 1942 in Kraków

A director belonging to the generation of filmmakers of the "cinema of moral anxiety", author of the famous series about Miauczyński, his films serve to chase away the demons that haunt him: an unhappy childhood, a failed marriage, his missed first love, obsessive ambitions, addictions. Author of all his film and theatre screenplays, he started directing feature film at the age of forty.

Watch early films by Marek Koterski and other classics

Having started out as an assistant director and a documentary filmmaker, it was not until Marek Koterski made his feature films that he touched on what was the most important to him - family trauma, personal problems. "With my very first documentary”, Koterski explains "I felt a growing conviction that a documentary was a creation, and a creation dishonest in its truth in the sense that by definition the viewer expected a print from life. Meanwhile, the greatest classics of Polish documentary filmmaking made repeated takes." (Gazeta Wyborcza, 7 November 2002)

Miauczyński, the star of his feature films is Marek Koterski’s alter ego. With countless autobiographical themes, and Koterski’s own son Michał cast in the role of Miauczyński’s son, he explains,

From the start I feed on myself as I build this character,I have not experienced everything that Adam experiences, though. And I think Miauczyński and I are becoming more and more different. However, Miauczyński is a convenient medium for expressing my pain, fear, shame. (Onet.pl on 24 June 2002)

Never trying to improve reality, Miauczyński is completely immersed in his world of neuroses, fears, and frustrations. A run down intellectual, trying to get by on a meagre salary, he lives in a block of flats alone or with his ex-wife, and reads poetry to school kids. He is a bundle of nerves who despises his neighbours and himself. Marek Kondrat, who played Miauczyński in three films, described him as a monster who branded him for life.

Koterski told me his character couldn't be played, you had to be him. He stood me up on a very thin blade, from which you could either fall or be cut in half. With him, grotesqueness and genuine drama commune through a very thin wall, because that's what our life is like. I was made aware of this once by a taxi driver who had seen Day of the Wacko and the film reminded him of a real situation. The car in front of him had hit a cat. The poor animal was writhing in convulsions while a group of people stood around it laughing at its weird movements. That taxi driver captured the essence of Marek's film. (Marek Kondrat in an interview by Katarzyna Janowska and Piotr Mucharski, Gazeta Wyborcza 3 June 2006)

Having settled accounts with his toxic family in Dom wariatów / The House of Fools, in Życie wewnętrzne / Inner Life Koterski analyses the failed marriage of two people who don't care about each other. He portrayed Miauczyński as an aggressive "tower block vampire" hurting his wife and immersed in a world of unfulfilled erotic fantasies. First approaching his films in all seriousness, thanks to his movies Porno, featuring seventeen erotic stories about Adam, and Nic śmiesznego / Nothing Funny he added irony and a quirky sense of humour to his moving images, ultimately achieving a tragicomic effect in Dzień Świra / Day of the Wacko. Cezary Pazura, who played the main role in Nothing Funny and Ajlawju did away with Adam's educated face, turning him into a vulgar clown winking at the audience. In Wszyscy jesteśmy Chrystusami / We're All Christs, the seventh feature film, Adam is saved from his addiction and retrieves a sense of hope.

Marek Koterski, a graduate Wrocław University in Polish studies was involved in student theatres and published academic reviews and essays from early on. He founded his own experimental Teatr Otwartej Sceny / Open Stage Theatre and worked as an assistant lecturer at the Literary Theory Department, He gave up his academic career and a PhD scholarship to France and, influenced by his first great love, Ela, came to Warsaw in 1966, where he eventually enrolled at the film school in Łódź. He made a number of short and medium-length films at the Wytwórnia Filmów Oświatowych (Educational Film Studio), and debuted as a feature film director after the age of forty, having been an assistant on other people's films for many years.

Feature films (scriptwriter and director):

• 1984 Dom wariatów / The House of Fools
33-year-old Adam (Marek Kondrat) visits his family home which is locked and bolted like a stronghold. It is evening, his mother is making supper, his father is getting ready for bed. In between the commonplace dialogues about tea ("How much sugar?") and trite conversation ("You've become a hulk of a man!") there lurks tension. The father (Tadeusz Łomnicki) very pedantically and repeatedly folds his trousers and flicks his socks against the stove. He counts tram tickets. The mother (Bohdana Majda) concentrates on whether to "open some fish" or not. The son carefully folds his paper napkin. They are all engrossed with the world of their own rituals. The toxic relations in the family lead Adam's sister-in-law to attempt suicide, while he leaves the place in an ambulance. "If I had to say in the briefest words what 'The House of Fools' was about, I would say it was a play about nothing, but this nothing fills the characters' whole lives," Marek Koterski in an interview for Gazeta Wyborcza", 7 November 2002).

• 1986 Życie wewnętrzne / Inner Life
Michał Miauczyński (Wojciech Wysocki) is in a failed marriage and lives in a dilapidated tower block where a "vampire" roams who molests women. It is a place where spouses understand each other without words. When the husband comes home from work, the wife hands him the rubbish bin, he hands her the newspaper. Having dinner together, they stare blankly at the TV screen. They go to bed. Miauczyński is frustrated with being stuck in a loveless relationship, with the lack of sex which he makes up for with erotic fantasies, with his own weakness (he unsuccessfully tries to quit smoking). He suffers from insomnia. The rift between his unfulfilled ambitions, his dream life, and reality is a source of aggression, constant tension, and grudges against the world. Miauczyński blames everyone but himself. He humiliates his wife. He is unable to make friends because, he says, "I'd like to be friends with you, but you would have to be different." Instead of strolling around Paris and relaxing, he has to explain himself like a teenager to policemen who ask for his ID when he goes out for an evening walk.

• 1989 Porno
Unable to sleep, the main character, Michał (Zbigniew Rola), starts recalling the women in his life as he lies next to a wife he doesn't care for. The seventeen love stories, or rather erotic tales, as they are mostly about the female faults which prevented the hero from achieving sexual satisfaction, lead to a sad conclusion: he lost his chance for happiness by letting his first love, the virtuous Asia, out of his grasp. A pornographi film, according to critics neither commercial nor artistic, the film attracted over a million Poles to cinemas making it the most popular film of 1990.

• 1995 Nic śmiesznego / Nothing Funny
A tragicomic monologue by the deceased director, Adam Miauczyński (Cezary Pazura), who is lying in the morgue and recounts his unlucky life. He sums up his life of forty years: "A humanist with no Latin or Greek. Bible never read, Proust and Joyce barely started, no house built, no tree planted." Whatever Miauczyński touched went wrong. Despite his great ambition and two university degrees, he worked as an assistant director for many years, committing blunders that disqualified him - even the bridge on the set blew up at the wrong time. When the time for his late debut finally came, everybody around him seemed to be conspiring against him: his cameraman friend refused to shoot the film, the actress got drunk, the prop man was clumsy. A series of often vulgar sketches, like the exploding privy or the erotic adventures of Adam with all his complexes, found fans mainly among young audiences, who set up websites quoting what they considered the best lines from Nic śmiesznego / Nothing Funny.

• 1999 Ajlawju
A love comedy lined with the existential dilemmas of Adam Miauczyński (Cezary Pazura). He and she (Katarzyna Figura) were students together, then their paths diverged. As forty-year-olds with a past, living with their ex-spouses in different cities, can they still find happiness? They try, but they hurt each other, get their wires crossed. Adam, a would-be poet and literary critic, is plagued by neuroses, Gosia's love of booze is her undoing. They are a long way from love of the kind from "The Master and Margarita" which he dreams about. " 'Ajlawju' is more than a film. It is a total statement. Shouted, laughed, cried," Marek Koterski told "Film" (June 1999). Critics pointed out the film's dramatic shortcomings, some found the obscenities offensive. "If we were to recount the story of 'Ajlawju' in the language consistently used throughout the film, it could go like this: Adam Miauczynski, an a...-hole of an educated man with a sh...-load of hang-ups, accidentally meets Gosia, a really f...ed-up woman he once passed by in his life, and now they look into each other's eyes and, f..., they fall in love, so s... off ," wrote Zbigniew Pietrasik in "Polityka".

• 2002 Dzień świra / Day of the Wacko
A day in the life of an educated Polish man, 44-year-old Adam Miauczyński (Marek Kondrat) who is plagued by reality. His humiliatingly low teacher's salary puts him in a hopeless position in the world of a market economy, turning him into a second-class citizen. Miauczyński will never buy a car, he will never move out of the tower block with paper-thin walls, and probably won't fall in love again even though he is divorced. Everything irritates, sickens, annoys him - TV commercials, politicians squabbling, women babbling on the train. He fails at quitting smoking and writing a poem. How does one live in such a state? He washes down his Prozac with seven gulps of water, he has seven handfuls of cereal for breakfast, he stirs his coffee counting to seven. With a numeromaniac's passion he tries to bring order to the chaos around him. He is furious and tired, and it's only the start of the day. The motto for writing the play Day of the Wacko, on which the film's script was later based, was Sławomir Mrożek's thought from his Małe listy / Short Letters: "The most difficult thing is living the next five minutes. Life is the next five minutes. Most often you have to move something from place to place, and then back to the same place, stand up, sit down, go, react. Yet there is no other life, just the next five minutes. The rest is imagination." (quoted from: "Dzień świra", Świat Literacki, 2002)

• 2006 Wszyscy jesteśmy Chrystusami / We're All Christs
The director settles accounts with Adam Miauczyński (Marek Kondrat) for his alcoholism; this time he is a 66-year-old cultural studies expert. Years of drinking have ruined his marriage, and his son (Michał Koterski) has wished death upon his father in his angriest moments. In this film, "they're all Christs" because they suffer (inflicting suffering upon one another). But Miauczynski hasn't been drinking for a few years now, which allows him to get closer to his son. It is his love that prevented him from drinking himself to death, saved him as a person, and freed him from a hereditary addiction passed on from generation to generation (in the son's case, it's drugs instead of drink). "Looking at the life of a Polish loser through the Passion is neither religious opportunism nor blasphemy. This is one of the most original and most mature Polish films," wrote Tadeusz Sobolewski in "Ewangelia według Adasia Miauczynskiego" / "The Gospel According to Adam Miauczynski", and added: "First he had to spit out the worst truth: about his family in 'The House of Fools', about himself in the next five films, to climb out of his degradation in the seventh. The therapy is over?" ("Gazeta Wyborcza", 20 April 2006).

• 2011 Baby są jakieś inne / Man, Chicks Are Just Different Two of the characters in the movie are travelling by car and talking about women, complaining about how cold and evil they are. And they have so many issues that they don't repeat themselves even once. And with what? Well, with everything. With the fact that women indicate a right turn, but turn left, that they click with high heels on the street, and rustle with newspapers at home, that they don’t say anything when they run out of toilet paper, event though they utter 20000 words a day (including 19993 that are utterly unnecessary), that in bed they treat men as if they were disabled, and that they abandon them all the time, not to mention the fact that they compete with men at work. The horror. However, this whining will not change anything, since the losers are wrong, which makes their explicit grumbling just a cry after a lost toy.

Plays:

• 1987 Życie wewnętrzne / Inner Life, Teatr Współczesny in Warsaw
Ayckbourne and Fray Award for the best play staged in 1987 in Poland.
• 1992 Nienawidzę / I Hate, Teatr Współczesny in Wrocław
Award at the Small Theatrical Forms Festival in Szczecin.
• 1996 Zęby / Teeth, Teatr Dramatyczny in Warsaw
The main character - a man of the same type as Miauczyński (Wojciech Wysocki) - lived to see freedom, but what's the point when he has nothing to chew with.
• 1998 Dom wariatów / The House of Fools, Teatr Ateneum in Warsaw.
• For Television Theatre: Społeczność / The Community (1987, based on notes made when shooting the documentary) and Nas troje / The Three of Us (2000, about a married couple trapped in a triangle with the TV from which they cannot tear their gaze).

Sources: based on the text by Małgorzata Fiejdasz, edited by Marta Jazowska

Marta Jazowska
Marta Jazowska
2014/03/03
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Marek Koterski

Works

Th last film in the series about Adam Miauczyński, a compelling portrait of the effect of alcoholism of the familyRead more »

A film portraying the painstaking life of a 44 year literature professor with obsessive-compulsive behaviour whose life is reduced to a series of rituals. A black comedy with "humor ranging from sublime to nutty", Time Out London calls it a "dolefully absurdist Polish comedy of dejection and rejection".Read more »

Marek Koterski

Articles

The fall of communism and the ensuing political revolutions, the victims of the economic transformation and the fall of Solidarity, the young people deprived of chances, and the wildness of Polish capitalism - Poland's most pertinent problems of the past 25 years are reflected in these 25 films. Read more »

Gustaw Holoubek in Wojciech Jerzy Has' Pętla, based on Hłasko's novel, photo: Filmoteka Narodowa / www.fototeka.fn.org.pl

For decades, cinematic and literary artists either glorified drinking or laid bare its ugly truth. Some portrayed the pits of this addiction and unravelled its false myths, while others chose to describe its heroically dizzying heights. Meet the chroniclers – and victims – of Polish alcoholism. Read more »

Still from Sławomir Fabicki's "A Man thing", photo: FilmPolski.pl

A creepy short by Roman Polański, a silent film by Wajda based on a Chekhov piece, The Catcher in the Rye according to Zanussi, and a socialist realist Shakespeare according to Skolimowski. The Łódź Film School makes public 100 short films by some of its best known alumni. Read more »

Marek Koterski

Events

19jul'12
29jul'12

From Witold Giersz’s visions of colour as the hero of film, the use of ridicule, silliness, and laughter to counteract communism in Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz’s 1989 portrait of the Orange Alternative, the 2012 New Horizons International Film Festival packs 469 features and shorts through three whole decades. Read more »