He is the next big thing on the Polish movie scene, his interests span artistic disciplines from music to painting, and while his critically acclaimed film proves sensitivity and a deep sense of empathy, he underlines that in 10 years he would like to be a rich, famous director sniffing cocaine off flat-bellied models on a yacht in the Mediterranean
Film driector, actor, screenwriter. Born Bartosz Koszała.
With Girl From the Closet, the icon of the Polish off-scene is going mainstream. Critics have already labelled the film "Poland's best debut of recent years" and it is one of three Polish productions at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2013. A savvy mix of comedy and psychological drama with some fairy-tale-like backgrounds, the film centres around two quirky, alienated people who start feeling more comfortable in their own skin once they stop thinking they are odd and alone.
A long time ago, the director's name was Bartosz Koszała. When he was 19, he thought that if he were a rock star his name would probably be Bodo Kox. "I was a big fan of U2", he told Małgorzata Steciak for the website Onet.pl. "Their vocalist’s pseudonym was Bono Vox, which in Latin means good voice". At first it was a joke, but then he started to identify with his rock-star name and used it for his first independent movies. "When I pick up my Oscar award", he told Alex Kłoś from the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, "I don’t want my name to be a tongue twister". He officially changed his name in 2006.
I would have been a journalistic buffoon
Originally from Wrocław, in Poland's southwest, he studied journalism there and had a TV programme dedicated to culture. At the beginning of the 21st century, he was an assistant director for the reality show Bar. "I would have been a lousy journalist" he says in an exclusive interview for Culture.pl. "A journalist has to be prepared, has to be genuine, and possess a solid general knowledge. Sure, I can be prepared, I can be genuine, but my general knowledge is limited. If we talked about topics that I don’t feel comfortable in, any bonehead could school me. And these are most topics".
He dreamt of a career in the music industry. He sang in the band E Vviva L' Arte and wrote songs for them for six years. He turned to cinema in 2003, directing his first short films and performing in independent productions. For his role in Dominik Matwiejczyk’s Krew z nosa / Blood From the Nose [editor’s translation], he received a 2005 OFFskar for Best Male Role in an independent film. He also played in Xawery Żuławski’s Wojna polsko-ruska / Snow White and Russian Red, the second adaptation of Dorota Masłowska’s controversial debut novel. Read more on Kox's film roles here.
"I am more of an amateur than an actor, so I have to work with what I have", he told Patryk Chilewicz for the NaTemat website. "With the way I am built it’s easier to pretend to be imbecile or a psychopath than a lover or a genius academic. And since I became a professional filmmaker, out of respect for the real actors and actresses, I rarely set foot in front of the camera".
A dinosaur of the Polish off-scene
He chose the cinema because it brings together the different branches of art that interest him. "I was useless as a man of letters, but you don’t have to be an outstanding literary craftsman to write scripts. I was an even worse painter, but that isn’t a disadvantage for the composition of frames. And let’s not forget about music, my great passion, which adds lightness to cinematic tales".
He shot his first films for fun. Crime, Sorry in 2003 was the first. In the following years he made a couple of dozen shorts that were no longer than a couple of minutes, such as Silverman, Jeśli on cię nie zagryzie, to ja cię zastrzelę… / If he Doesn’t Bite You to Death, Then I Will Kill You…[editor’s translation]. As Poland was joining the European Union in 2004, in an attempt to add a bit of spark to the seriousness of the moment, he and several friends made the comical short Fesselbalon. In it, the naked Bodo Kox uses a balloon with the EU's 12-star flag to play on his genitals.
In 2005, at the 30th Gdynia Film Festival, Poland’s most recognised feature-film festival, where he received mentions for his roles in Piotr Matwiejczyk’s Homo Father and Dominik Matwiejczyk’s Ugór / Fallow Land [editor’s translation], he said to the crowd of industry filmmakers, "The independent cinema is growing stronger. We’ll catch up with you!"
The same year, his film Marco P. i złodzieje rowerów / Marco P. and the Bike Thieves won prizes at independent festivals across Poland, establishing his name on the off-scene. The 34-minute criminal comedy shows how a biking fanatic turns into a beast thirsty for revenge who implements his own justice with a bicycle pump. Read more on Kox's indie productions here.
Made in the spirit of Park Chan-wook's thriller Oldboy and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, the film's editing, cinematography and acting didn’t suffer from its tiny budget and earned Grzegorz Wojdon an OFFskar - a prize of the Polish independent cinema - for best actor, for his role as Marco.
A caricature self-portrait
Sobowtór / Doppelganger, another film he directed in 2005, weaves together two stories – one about a man who doesn’t manage to do anything properly in life and lives an illusion, and the other about a sitcom actress who starts dating a disturbed director named Oskar Boszko, who is constantly high. Kox created Oskar Boszko and included the character in other works, partly as a caricature self-portrait and partly as a commentary on the fussy art world.
Doppelganger marked an evolution in his artistic style: The crude comedy and mix of genres was replaced with drama. Asked if he wasn’t afraid of changing his entire convention, he answered, "Auteur cinema doesn’t consist of granting wishes, living up to viewer expectations and constantly copying one’s films to please them. I make films that I feel like making and the fans should understand that, otherwise they should find another idol who will be trying to be good to them all the time".
Between off-scene projects, he found time to organise various happenings. Cool, documented on film and included in the Marco P… DVD, was a protest against nationalism and the war in Iraq. On the pavement of Wrocław's central market square, he arranged the word “Cool” out of wood coffins covered with Polish flags.
Departing from the off-scene
Although it accounts for a major change in his filmmaking style, Girl From the Closet is not his only feature debut. Critics have called him "the most-often debuting Polish filmmaker" - and Kox admits that Girl is his third first.
He bid farewell to independent cinema with the film Nie panikuj! / Don’t Panic! In the film’s trailer, Kox said, "That’s what the film is: There’s heavy drinking, there are drugs and dancing. There are people making out. Naked hotties. And, of course, fighting. There’s a cowboy, a crazy woman, guns and cops. There is a lot happening, just like it should be in a good movie."
Bodo Kox, photo: OffPlusCamera
The 75-minute production is the story of three friends who, in a drunken feat, steal the McDonald's mascot and catch the attention of a slow-witted policeman. The absurd comedy had a solid cast, with Grzegorz Wojdon and Teresa Sawicka - and a star of the Polish cinema, Marcin Dorociński.
As with Marco P…, the soundtrack was by the band Pustki, with a couple of musical beats by the rapper L.U.C. "I knew that if I had made that script with more money, the effect would have been better and the film would have had a larger impact", Kox said in his interview with Culture.pl. By that time, however, the script to Girl From the Closet was ready, and he was on the lookout to have it produced. What turned out to be the breakthrough was the decision to go back to school.
An upside-down world
In 2010, Kox applied to the Łódź Film School. Based on his artistic portfolio, he was admitted to the fourth year in directing. The school offered financial support for productions, and was full of potential co-workers. He was also invited to study scriptwriting at the Wajda Film School.
He created Księżycowa rzeka / Moon River [editor’s translation] where he presented his version of the landing on the moon. Neil Armstrong was replaced by a Czech astronaut played by Wojciech Mecwaldowski - today, the star of Girl from the Closet - and the transmission from the expedition is being watched by a maid played by Maria Seweryn. In Rura / Pipe [editor’s translation], made for the Polish Film Institute’s educational programme, he alluded to and praised Andrzej Wajda’s Kanał / Canal, the 1957 film set during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, part of the loose trilogy that placed Wajda among the important directors of the new European generation. Pipe is a witty and sad commentary on today’s reality.
Kox speaks of the Łódź Film School with appreciation, as a place for confrontation of visions. "You can borrow something from anyone and everyone", he says in his Culture.pl interview. "One comment can change your approach to the profession". His artistic supervisor was Robert Gliński, the feature and documentary film director. Thanks to Gliński, the script to Girl From the Closet reached Włodzimierz Niderhaus of the Polish Documentary and Feature Film Production Company, giving Kox the chance to make his feature debut.
Coming out of the closet
Though it has yet to premiere, Girl From the Closet has been applauded by viewers and reviewers. Kox received the journalist’s prizen in 2012 at the Koszalin Film Festival Young and Film, dedicated to the promotion of young film-makers - with a simple "for everything" note included. Only a year later, his new film qualified for Karlovy Vary’s East of the West festival competition.
In his mainstream debut, Kox combines comedy and psychological drama, creating a fairy-tale story about people who are lost. The story, termed a Polish Rain Man, has just the right temperature of emotions and displays meticulous technical skill. Cinematography by Arkadiusz Tomiak, set design by Andrzej Haliński and the acting skills of Piotr Głowacki and Wojciech Mecwaldowski place the film among "Poland’s best debut of recent years".
Mecwaldowski plays Tomek, who has savant syndrome, barely talks and enjoys climbing on roofs to imagine that the sky is filled with zeppelins. "He is a bit of clown, like a jumping jack", says the director. "A bit like I often am, because the best defence and way to keep distance is having a sense of humour". Though he likes to pretend he is a prankster, he has made a film full of empathy and warmth.
Critics have called him self-important, arrogant and lacking imagination. "I’m accepting what they say and I will do everything to prove that there is still a small flame with ideas under that layer of arrogance", he told Culture.pl. "In cinema, everything has already been done - but not everything has been done in Polish cinema, so I hope that I will be at least showing something fresh to the Polish audiences. Or on the other hand, I could just pack loads of chemicals into supermarket meat, put it out for sale and pretend it’s fresh".
Author: Bartosz Staszczyszyn, translated and edited by MJ 13.06.2013