He creates portraits of people who are confronted with evil. He asks questions and avoids making judgments. For his short film A Man Thing he received an Academy Award nomination, for Retrieval he got a special mention in Cannes. Loving, Fabicki’s second feature comes to Polish cinemas mid-March 2013.
"I like the marginalised, those people that fight for something simple for themselves, love, better living standards" says Fabicki about his hard-hitting, emotional films. His second feature comes to Polish cinemas mid-March 2013.
Sławomir Fabicki, photo: Wojciech Druszcz / Reporter / East News
If it wasn’t for Werner Herzog, he would have probably become a mathematician. Just like other memebrs of his family, he studied mathematics, the mother of all sciences for a couple of years. But he already knew that he wanted to link his future with film. Werner Herzog was behind it all. Fabicki says in an interview for the website Filmweb, "I was 17 and thought to myself: Dear God, he is a director who talks about a world that I understand perfectly".
"Before I started making my first short films, I used to write. Directing came later on", says Fabicki in an interview for culture.pl. However, he had to tread a difficult path before starting his studies at the Łódź Film School. He first got a degree in scriptwriting from the Łódź Film School and was accepted into the directing course on his fourth attempt.
Watch early films by Sławomir Fabicki and other classics
Beyond the margin
During his first year, he made the amateur documentary Wewnętrzny 55 / Extension 55. "It was the first good film I made", he says. The film deals with children’s longing for their parents. Set in a rehabilitation centre in the Polish suburbian town of Konstancin, where one can find children from all over Poland. "There were no cell phones back then, so the only way to contact with the outside world was through a telephone that hung in the hallway. In the film I registered the conversations of the children with their parents, a touching story about their longing." For the ten minute documentary Fabicki received the Canal+ and Kodak awards for Best Student Film in 1997 and prizes at festivals in Oberhausen, Tehran and Kalamata (Greece).
"I like the marginalised, those people that fight for something simple for themselves, love, better living standards", he says in an interview for the website Stopklatka. In A Man Thing, his most popular film from 2001, he dealt with the marginalised, the weak, the rejected. It’s the story of 13-year-old Bartek who lives in one of the poorest districts of Łódz and whose unemployed father abuses him, taking out his frustrations on him.
The story of friendship between the abused boy with a stray dog who is dying at a local dog pound moved audiences in different parts of the world. A Man Thing received awards at festivals in Stuttgart, Munich, Edinburgh, Łódz, Kiev, Tehran, Mexico, New York, Moscow, Regensburg, Clermont-Ferrand, Tai Pei, Paris and Kraków. It received a nomination to the European Film Awards, for a Student Oscar and an Academy Award in the Live Action Short Film category.
It could seem that the successful run would help Fabicki in the making of next projects. Unfortunately, he had to wait another five years for his full feature debut as he found
Polish cinematography wasn’t in the best shape at that time. The Cinematography Committee has been dissolved, TV productions shot on video were included into the Gdynia Film Festival competition. If someone actually managed to make a movie, it meant he must have made several compromises. Few shooting days, budget cuts on set design. I didnt want to make any other films in these chaotic circumstances.
Before he stood on the set of Retrieval, he made two theatre performances for the Polish TV station TVP in 2003 and 2004. Łucja and her children was an adaptation of a play by Marek Pruchniewski, considered one of Poland most talented contemporary playwrights. The other piece, Amusement Park – Almost a Fairytale also written by Pruchniewski captures the Polish province and portrays it as a mirror for the entire nation. Ever since, Facki and Pruchniewski cooperate regularly. "Marek knows how to listen. When he writes he doesnt think through the prism of the story but the protagonist. First there is the human being, the story comes second and is born out of the human. This manner of creating is very close to me", the director says. Fabicki and Pruchniewski joined forces on Retrieval and Loving. Fabicki gets attached to his co-workers: he worked with camera operators Bogumił Godfrejów and Piotr Szczepański, and scriptwriters Denijal Hasanović and Adam Guziński several times.
An encounter with evil
After the success of A Man Thing he looked for a producer who would want to invest in his feautre for a couple of years. Eventually he met Piotr Dzięcioł from Opus Film Studio and the Retrieval project started to seem realistic. Fabicki re-used a story that he told in a documentary prepared for the entry exam to the Łódz Film School. It was the story of a 19-year-old who goes into debt retrieval. "Somehow the story of this person followed me throughout my studies. I wondered how a young person can chose a path like this? What is going on in his head? Does he feel remorse?", he says in the Stopklatka interview. The plot about a boy who takes up work for a local ganster in the name of his love for an immigrant from Ukraine was built from these questions.
Critics complemented the raw form, the realistic representation of Polish reality, Bogumił Godfrejów’s shots and the acting of young actors Antoni Pawlicki and Natalia Vdovina, the unforgotten mother from Andrey Petrovich Zvyagintsev’s The Return. Polish film critic Tadeusz Sobolewski wrote in Gazeta Wyborcza,
Sławomir Fabicki’s feature debut is a strong film that nevertheless has its flaws. If I were to name the most important characteristic of Fabicki’s films […], the one that makes him a promising figure for young Polish cinema, I would say that it’s the way he treats evil – the courage to look it straight in the eyes.
Retrieval was Poland’s candidate for the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category in the year 2007. Following the Cannes festival, where the film received a special mention from the Ecumenical Jury of Un Certain Regard, Duane Byrge wrote for Reuters, "Retrieval, the story of a young boxer fighting for somthing more than salvation […] has plenty of heart. […] It’s a fascinating and absorbing picture, a gripping eye-opener of the quagmire of life in contemporary Poland." Variety's Leslie Felperin writes,
Retrieval punches above its weight with beefy genre tale of an essentially decent young pugilist (impressive newcomer Antoni Pawlicki) who provides muscle power for a gangster, the cinematographer is Bogumil Godfrejow, who also shot Berlin contender Requiem, is very much in the Lodz filmmaking school tradition that revels in gray-toned grit.
"I love to read reportages and observe people", he says. Throughout his career he has only made a couple of documentary films (all of them while still at Film School), but in his features he moulds reality in a way characteristic of a reporter – holding no punches.
Cinema of sincerity
His newest film also has a protagonist that is confronted with evil and his own weakness. Loving was inspired by a newspaper article by Lidia Ostałowska for Gazeta Wyborcza in 2008 entitled This is what happened to my wife / To się stało mojej żonie. It concerned the well know case of sexual abuse in the Olszytn city council but it was written from the point of view of the husband of one of the molestation victims. Loving, however does not make a sensation of the affair, Fabicki's film is an intimate and psychological drama. He takes a hard look at the protagonists and focuses of how they relate and react to each other. Before our eyes, habits that were set in stone start crumbling. What seemed certain turns out to be fragile. Trust, closeness, desire, security - nothing seems to be sure anymore.
As film critic Zdzisław Pietrasik wrote for Polityka magazine,
After a six-year break, Sławomir Fabicki […] made his second feature. It’s better than the first one, wich as we known isn’t always the case, quite on the contrary most young artists don’t manage to do this.Nevertheless, Fabicki’s motion picture divided the critics, some of whom accuse it of being pretentious and overloaded with easy symbols.
Although he is associated with films that touch upon difficult topics, he has plans for "more cheerful" projects. One of them is the family film Bonobo Jingo. Co-written with Mieczysław Krzel in 2007, the film’s script received the main prize at the New Cinema Network contest for Best European Film Project at the Roma Film Fest International Film Festival.
When he stands behind the camera, he invites us into a the depths of human emotions. His cinema is not a concussion of made up problems, it has flesh. Fabicki will begin filming a Polish, German, Danish and Norwegian production about a boy who gets hold of a dwarfish chimpanzee named Jingo in 2014.
After "Retrieval" I wanted to shoot a movie that my children could watch. My oldest daughter is 15, but she was 9 at that time, and I was hoping that I would make that movie quickly. It didn’t work out, but now my youngest daughter is 7 and I hope that she will be able to watch "Bonobo Jingo". I like it when films show emotions, when they’re not dry and very intellectual.
Author: Bartosz Staszczyszyn, translated by Marta Jazowska 21.03.2013
Further sources: Greencine