Artur Urbański is a film and theatre director and actor. He was born on 20th May, 1965 in Włodawa.
Film and theatre director, actor.
In 1990, he graduated from the Acting Department at the Leon Schiller National Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre in Łódź. In 1995, he received a diploma in directing from the same school.
While still a student of directing, he made some interesting short films: My Last Woman (1994), Stink (1994), M+M (1995), which were awarded at film festivals in Europe and United States. His feature début was the award winning Bellissima (2000), a story of a fourteen-year-old girl (Maria Góralczyk) who becomes a model upon the wish of her pushy and unfulfilled mother (Ewa Kasprzyk). Urbański described a situation in which a child gradually becomes more mature than their parent, as well as portrayed the bloody yet hilarious nightmare of Polish show business. In Bellissima, the everyday becomes grotesque. As Anita Piotrowska wrote, it was filled with:
[…] spotted spontaneous gestures, specific ‘empty’ dialogues, situations which don’t abstain from an overly straightforward cinematic message.
Tygodnik Powszechny, 17.6.2001
Urbański debuted in theatre in 1993, when he showed Peter Shaffer’s Equus at the Stefan Jaracz Theatre in Łódź. In 1996, he realised the Polish premiere of Jean Genet’s Splendid's at the ‘83 Studio Theatre in Łódź. He later prepared contemporary drama shows at the TR Warsaw: Howie the Rookie by Mark O’Rowe (2001) and The Treatment by Martin Crimp (2002). Already in his first show, which was an attempt at representing psychotherapy and the relationship arising between the doctor and patient, Urbański demonstrated an interest in the psychological games played by the characters. In Splendid’s, the director tackled Genet’s mystical and derisive playwriting by accentuating the sphere of human games and interactions. He turned O’Rowe’s text into a story about Polish ‘blockers’ (inhabitants of tower blocks) and about the hellish places where violence and evil come alive. Piotr Gruszczyński wrote:
Out of a fairly banal text with a theatrically-challenging structure – as the play is made up of two combined monodramas – he created an incredibly interesting performance, modestly, quietly, on a side, on the small stage of Rozmaitości Theatre […] Urbański excellently demonstrates the power of theatre, creating cracks through which the despair of the depicted but not described world leaks into the play’s reality.
Tygodnik Powszechny, 18.11.2001
Just like Howie the Rookie, The Treatment was a show that did not emanate cruelty and was realised with distance and without sentiments. In a cold, metropolitan space, the director told a story of two intertwining worlds – the world of fiction and the world of truth, he described producers hunting for a juicy real-life drama, and people who partake in it. Urbański admitted:
I am interested in man. In human stories. I am interested in why he makes the choices he does, why he lies, what makes it difficult for him to meet another person, why he cheats and why he is faithful, and I could generate a ton of more questions like this. This is what interests me in theatre and film. The rest is secondary.
WiK no. 9 (2002)
Artur Urbański also worked in Television Theatre. In 1998, he realised Gwiazda sezonu (The Star of the Season)* on the small screen – a play which, as he confessed, he didn’t pick himself. He followed in it the convention of Television Theatre from three decades ago, referencing the aesthetics of Kobra Theatre. He shot the show in black and white, with flat, paper set design; he also introduced comic style, by inserting drawn speech bubbles next to the characters, while the actors played in an exaggerated manner. John Patrick’s comedy was a story of a loser – a bank clerk who turned into a pop star.
This comedy gets right to the bottom of American pop culture: the mechanism of stardom […] This biting satire of the American myths, in which half of Poland believes, combined with Kaczyński’s and Agnieszka Krukówna’s acting, has resulted in the best show of the season so far.
– Roman Pawłowski wrote about the show. Gazeta Wyborcza, 10-11.11.1998
Urbański also participated in Television Theatre as an actor, when he played Lars in Ingmar Villqist’s The Anaerobes, directed by Łukasz Barczyk in 2001.
After a longer break, caused by a move to the US, where he went with his wife, model Małgorzata Bela, he realised, among others, The Homecoming by Harold Pinter (Współczesny Theatre in Wrocław, 2008), Ona i ona / Her and Her* after August Strindberg’s The Stronger (Wytwórnia Theatre in Warsaw, 2009), and Faithless by Ingmar Bergman (TR Warsaw, 2010).
In Warsaw’s Faithless, it is the audience’s giggle that strikes the most. There are even occasional outbursts of laughter. The authors have created something that initially comes across as a mockery of heresy – they spice up Bergman’s gloomy, at times shocking text with humour and irony. It is precisely this gesture that eventually becomes the performance’s main asset.
– Paweł Schreiber wrote. Teatr no. 4 (2000)
In 2010, he showed his own text on the stage of the Drama Laboratory – Luna, a monodrama played by Karolina Porcari, and one year later Gorące lato w Oklahomie / A Hot Summer in Oklahoma* after Tracy Letts’s August: Osage County, at the Stefan Jaracz Theatre in Łódź.
After Bellissima, he stayed away from camera for a long time. In 2005, he shot a documentary in the US titled Sometimes When I Wake Up at Night, I Don't Know Where I Am about Daniel, a Polish immigrant who visits his homeland after years of living in America. His surprises everyone with his appearance, as in the US, he found company in the Unknown Bikers motorcycle club.
He returned to cinema screen with the largely autobiographical The Father (2016), in which he played one of the main roles, while the titular character was played by Zygmunt Malanowicz.
Agnieszka Holland advised me against acting in my own film, because it would be hard for me to keep distance towards the role, but also towards the film and the plot. But then I realised I didn’t want that distance. All my films and performances are in some sense about me. Bellissima also was about me.
– he said in an interview with Anna Luboń.
Gazeta.pl Weekend, June 2016
Janusz Wróblewski wrote about the lack of distance – not the director’s, but his on-screen alter-ego’s:
The loose dramatic structure, where the scenes of everyday married life are juxtaposed with retrospections and surrealistic hallucinations, results in a not quite consistent, and yet engrossing image of the internal struggle of the protagonist who is not able to look at himself from a distance.
- 1995 – first prize for the short film Stink at the International Student Film Festival in New York
- 2001 – award for direction for Bellissima at the Young & Film Koszalin Film Meetings; award for directing début for Bellissima at the Gdynia Film Festival;
- 2002 – Young Marco Polo Premio Award for Best Young Director for Bellissima at the International Television Festival in Venice; award for the director for the staging of Howie the Rookie by Mark O’Rowe at the Rozmaitości Theatre in Warsaw, Festival of Contemporary Dramatic Art ‘Constructed Reality’ in Zabrze;
- 2003 – Broken Barrier – Grand Prix for Howie the Rookie by Mark O’Rowe at the Rozmaitości Theatre in Warsaw, International Theatre Festival ‘Without Borders’ in Cieszyn;
- 2010 – The Art of Monologue competition in Warsaw – award for Luna.
Author: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, November 2004, update: NMR, June 2016.