Konrad J. Zarębski interviews Krzysztof Łukaszewicz, writer and director of the harrowing picture of small-town vendetta.
Konrad J. Zarębski: You have been awarded the Grand Prix at the 2010 Koszalin Debut Film Fesitval "The Young and Cinema" for the film Lincz. How would you describe the road to your debut?
Krzysztof Łukaszewicz: I studied to be an economist at Szczecin University and a journalist at Warsaw University, but both the diplomas are just lying in a drawer somewhere. I found myself working on a film set even during my university studies. I started on the set of Ogniem i Mieczem" / "With fire and sword where, as an unpaid intern, I assisted Jerzy Hoffman. I then collaborated with Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Dariusz Jabłoński, Robert Gliński, Ryszard Bugajski and Lech Majewski - in total I participated in the making of over twenty films and television series as the assistant director and the 2nd unit director. I did not go through film school, but assisting in productions gave me a good 'comparative' view of our best national directors' different styles but also the style of their cameramen. The latest production I assisted was on the set of the Battle of Warsaw 1920 film shot in 3D by Sławomir Idziak. I think this sort of education makes it possible to learn enough basic skills to shoot a decent film.
KJZ: A film such as Lincz?
KŁ: It's not for me to judge, I am waiting for the decision of the audience when Lincz is released in cinemas. Especially that now I feel that I should have shot it differently.
But coming back to my 'road', my debut on the set of Ryszard Bugajski's Generał Nil" / "General Nil offered me a chance to co-write a script through which I gained more experience, this time in scriptwriting. During this particular production, I was approached by some producers asking me whether I perhaps had any ideas of my own. And yes, I had the idea to shoot a film about the lynching in Włodów. Go ahead then, sir, write it. And this is how the script came to be, and based on this, Włodzimierz Niderhaus from WFDiF (the Documentary and Feature Film Production Company) decided that I could handle it. This is how I got the chance to shoot my debut film.
KJZ: The lynching in Włodów is one of those embarrassing matters that was not discussed in the media for a long time. Everyone has their own opinion of it, but at the same time, which your film proves, few take the general social problems that led to this incident into consideration. Let us remind ourselves what happened - in July 2005 a few men in a Mazurian Lake District village instigated mob rule against a habitual offender who terrorised the local neighbourhood. In the eyes of the local community, the perpetrators became heroes but the prosecutor demanded a harsh sentence for them. The court case dragged on for years, but finally the men were released by president Lech Kaczyński.
Lincz shares a number of similarities with the controversial film Dług" / "Debt by Krzysztof Krauze, telling the story of two businessmen who murder two gangsters in order to free themselves from their threats. Is this resemblance deliberate?
KŁ: Not entirely. I was greatly impressed by Dług, especially by the way it shaped the character of the gangster played by Andrzej Chyra. His part was constructed in such a way that while watching it, I began to identify with the people who murdered him. I wished for the villain in my film - Zaranek, the repeated offender played by Wiesław Komasa - to bring about the same emotions.
However, this similarity was not deliberate, although I probably moved in that direction subconsciously. It is probably also because the two cases are analogous - the problem in both, to quote the lawyers, lies in overstepping the boundaries of self-defence and reasonable force, with all its consequences.
KJZ: I think that both films depict the weakness of the state, which fails to adequately protect its citizens. The main difference is that Dług aimed at creating a certain metaphor while Lincz is a painfully realistic - one could even say semi documentary - depiction of reality.
KŁ: It was certainly important to reconstruct the events that preceded the lynching in Włodów - actually the village of Kruty in the film - for the subject to be treated in a fair and versatile way. As the script was progressing, I spoke to the participants of the actual events and I acquired a copy of the investigative report. I initially aimed at simply reconstructing the events but as I uncovered more facts, the story proved increasingly complex.
The lynching incident in Włodów exhibits a certain embarrassing phenomenon typical for our society, although I don't think it's exclusive for us alone. When a person from the countryside turns to us, people from the city, for help, we make an effort to get rid of them as quickly as possible. Theoretically, they should be listened to but we haven't got the patience for it as they tend to wash less frequently, drink more often, which is apparent in their odor, they can be uneducated, sometimes unmannered, less keen to make a deal and in comparison to us, they seem old-fashioned, stuck in the past. And we quickly rid ourselves of them, opening the nearest window with relief in order to, as the figurative phrase goes, 'clear the air'.
I perceive this injustice committed by the authorities against the residents, as a kind of consent to all the problems which are present in this environment. Rural residents do not want to report their neighbour who is sexually molesting his child to the police or social services, out of fear they will not be believed. This communication barrier is made more prominent by the matter of respect for the state institutions in general - for the village inhabitants, it is a far stranger environment than for city residents. This phenomenon, depicted in Lincz should be viewed as superior. When the female protagonist sees her doctor to ask him to perform a forensic examination, he dismisses her because he smells alcohol on her. It does not occur to him that she could have had a drink to regain composure after being assaulted. This is what Lincz aims to discuss.
KJZ: The lynching in Włodów started out as a local tragedy, then it became tabloid news and finally, after the 2005 election, it took the shape of an important political issue and became the subject of a legal feud. However, researching this case today is challenging as it is difficult to acquire written materials that take all of the above aspects into consideration and put them in a chronological order. Not only does your film order the entire case, but it also names each of its aspects. Take, for instance, the victim of the lynch - the newspaper phrase 'to terrorise the neighbourhood' is far milder than the images presented on the screen.
KŁ: This is the effect of denial. We fear aggression therefore we trivialise violence in the countryside, portraying it as one man shouting at the other, getting drunk, causing a commotion in a local corner shop and kicking a dog. We refuse to believe that anyone is capable of such savagery. Meanwhile, the scenes in Lincz featuring Zaranek, the criminal, are a reconstruction, a depiction of crime scenes. It had to be shown, at least for the viewer to be shocked and at the same time for the evil to be personified.
KJZ: It centers on Wiesław Komasa's excellent performance.
KŁ: Even when I was writing the script I thought he was the only person suitable for the role. I found it difficult to imagine anyone else playing the part. Luckily, all the actors I sent the script to agreed to act in the film. The scenes featuring Wiesław Komasa demanded the most directorial and acting work. His Zaranek is exactly as he should be - apologetic, burdened by his aged. But it only takes a moment for something threatening to appear in his face, an expression that one remembers for years. Constructing this character took a lot of time because it is a part that requires the actor to detach himself from almost everything that is rooted deep in him as a person. Wiesław Komasa told me that he was not sure if he was capable of extracting such deposits of inhumanity out of himself. This is why it was so important for him to be supported by his acting partners, especially by Mirosława Maludzińska who took the part of the old Słotowa, one of his victims. This particular scene required a deep analysis - step by step, gesture by gesture - because it is not the number of appearances by the actors but their facial expressions that carry the action.
KJZ: In all honesty, the entire cast deserves recognition…
KŁ: The most difficult task was to perfectly recreate the characters who belong in the world of the countryside. Actors usually live in large cities and play the parts of urban characters in television series. They needed to be transformed in some way.
They had to stop speaking clear Polish and start breaking the accent and the word order to approach the characters borrowed from the provinces. Wiesław Komasa, a performance lecturer, and I wondered what needed to done for all of the dialogue to sound 'rural'.
For a short time we tried using local jargon but that sounded artificial. The actor then started to change his accent, change the word order in sentences, added some hoarseness to his voice and we were finally able to achieve the desired effect. It transpired that in order to achieve credibility, it was necessary to apply a few fairly 'anti-acting' techniques rather than the stage ones. This meant not delivering lines clearly but mumbling them under your breath, positioning yourself slightly to the side, with your back to the camera, looking away and avoiding eye contact. And apart from pronounciation and a peculiar accent, there was also the matter of body language which is most evident in the nervous, irregular step of Iza Kuna who, it should be added, brilliantly broke the dialogue, already scripted as 'broken' - with a reversed word order and irregular punctuation…
KJZ: You managed to create a story that is stirringly authentic - a drama enhanced by the specificity of time and place.
KŁ: If this is the case, it was entirely accidental. I wanted the story to be universal. We all share a uniform image of a Polish village - the authentic one, not the one just outside the city limits. This is the reason we drove 200km from Warsaw to the real countryside, actually not very far from Włodów, we filled the sets with extras living in the area and we constantly tried to rid the actors of city habits embedded in their consciousness. They had to act against themselves in natural, tight spaces where there was barely enough room to fit a camera, and where we also needed to squeeze in five people, a dog and get them to perform a scene, e.g. being brutally assaulted by Zaranek.
Moving the location of the real events by a few dozen kilometers, and achieving a close similarity to the actual reports from Włodów, proves that the entire situation could have taken place anywhere. The underdevelopment of the countryside is not a feature unique for the Mazurian Lake District area, but the whole of Poland. It could truly have happened pretty much anywhere. And such events will take place as long as the provinces, already challenged by a communication dissonance, remain far more underdeveloped than the urban areas, and for as long as the residents of the countryside are left alone with their pathologies. It is high time that the rural areas were seen from this point of view. Village inhabitants, left to their own devices, will continue to make entirely different decisions than the city folk because their world is simpler than ours, urban residents, more black and white. Good is good and evil is evil, there is no relativity. There is also no time to think in extreme situations.
KJZ: Your film consists of many layers. Lincz could be seen as a film about human dignity: anyone who threatens it must face the consequences of such an action.
KŁ: It is a rule which is worth reminding ourselves of. People from the countryside, due to their ambivalent take on reality, are obviously more concerned with their personal dignity. After all, if there is no work, no food to put on the table, all that is left is dignity. And faith - how very deceptive - that one lives in a state that will provide support in difficult times, or at least will do its best to resolve difficult situations. This factor was missing in the case of Włodów.
KJZ: In addition, the prosecutor demands that the lynch mob be harshly punished not because of a respect for the law, but because he wants revenge for the fact the residents of the village were prepared to tear him to pieces, since he failed to recognise the perpetrators as heroes and branded them as criminals instead.
KŁ: That is not entirely true. We have to remember - and the prosecutor stresses this in his speech - that if a murder has been committed, then its perpetrator must face the consequences of his actions, regardless of how vile the victim was. The court can only acknowledge the circumstances of the particular situation.
The prosecutor makes a valid point. If mob rule is instigated and this action is not rightly punished, it will only cause similar events to take place. This cannot be tolerated because no authority will ever be able to deal with such a widespread problem.
I realise this sounds unlike the message the film intends to convey and unlike my own intentions. But this particular film is not meant to sympathise with any of the sides. Lincz depicts a predicament with no way out for anyone involved - both for the residents of the village, terrorised by Zaranek, and for the policeman who did not have the resources to help them, and in the end is made a scapegoat. There is also no way out for the prosecutor in these circumstances. A murder is a murder, the guilty party has to be punished, even if our sense of fairness justifies their actions. However, a sense of justice is not the same as the law.
To conclude - Lincz talks about the sin of omission. The city's omission of its duty to care for the countryside which leads to the provinces being left to their own devices and giving consent to all the different pathologies that sprout in those areas.
Konrad J. Zarębski interviewed Krzysztof Łukasiewicz in March 2011.
For more on the film, see: Lincz" / "Lynch