The most interesting voice in the young Polish directing scene. Although he has only made two full-length films, he is already considered a promising representative of European auteur cinema.
He is characterized by a minimalistic style. If he has to choose between word and image he picks the latter and he often decides to make very limited use of dialogues. His movies are built from psychological portraits created with precision and sensitiveness. He shows lost people, who can’t communicate with the world.
He dreamt about making movies since high-school. In a conversation with Krzysztof Kwaitkowski, which was printed in the magazine Wprost, he said: 'I wasn’t admitted to the Łódź film school. I don’t do well on exams. I can’t pass them. I didn’t even pass the first stage'.
He began attending a directing course at the Warsaw Film and Television Academy. At the same time he worked part-time jobs. He distributed flyers, was a security guard at a bank, he sold popcorn in a cinema in Warsaw. 'That was a great job because after work I could watch movies as much as I liked. I must have seen Billy Eliot at least 20 times' – he reminisced in the interview from Wprost magazine. It wasn’t long before he became a student of the production department at the Łódź film school. He studied, wrote scripts and dreamt of a full-length debut.
In 2004 he decided to try his luck across the ocean. He went to New York, where he quickly encountered brutal reality.
He came back to Poland and completed his studies. He began searching for producers, who would finance his feature debut. In the meantime he worked on the set of the television series Barwy Szczęścia. He also was an assistant to other artists, from whom he learned about the art of directing. At the Dramatyczny Theatre he worked with Agnieszka Glińska on the spectacle Lulu na Moście (Lulu on the Bridge), at the Studyjny Theatre in Łódź he worked with Aleksandra Konieczna, at the Na Woli Theatre he worked alongside Maciej Kowalewski. Years later he reminisced: “for me, being an assistant was the best lesson of directing”.
At an international workshop organized by the Rozmaitości Theatre he met Małgorzata Szumowska. He wanted to become her assistant on her next movie. 'I kept nagging her for a year and I kept calling all the time. I’m glad she didn’t call the police' – he jokes today. Wasilewski’s determination made an impression on the director and she asked him to work with her on 33 sceny z życia (33 Scenes from Life) – her best movie as of yet. He was assistant director and he also acted in two scenes of the film.
In the Bedroom
It wasn’t long before he set foot on the set of his debutant movie. In the Bedroom is a story about a woman, who tries to break free from the role written for her by social norms. She doesn’t want to be a mother and a wife, she isn’t capable of being a femme fatale or a fallen woman. Wasilewski played a game of ambiguity with the audience, he limited the role of the dialogues to a minimum and he told the story chiefly with images.
Having a microscopic budget at his disposition, Wasilewski created a bold psychological portrait. He and his crew had to work very quickly – they shot eleven scenes a day. 'We did overtime that wasn’t necessarily paid for. We had a mutual goal. We knew what we were doing' – Wasilewski told Janusz Wróblewski from the magazine Polityka.
Wasilewski’s film turned out to be a great success. The movie was reviewed by ScreenDaily and The Hollywood Reporter and the festival tour led from Thessaloniki through Karlovy Vary, Brisbane, Zurich, Mannheim-Heidelberg to Busan in Korea.
Tomasz Wasilewski’s debut must have annoyed all of those, who claim that the greatest problem of Polish cinema is the lack of money. In the Bedroom is a work made by a very talented guy, who has his own vision of making movies. He can put this vision on screen and he is excellent at directing actors – wrote Łukasz Muszyński of Filmweb.
W sypialni was a one-woman show of Katarzyna Herman. Thanks to the director’s friend Tomasz Tyndyk, it was possible to convince this great actress to show up on the set. Herman played the part of Edyta, creating the best role of the actress’ film career.
Even before In the Bedroom was released in the cinemas, Tomasz Waslilewski was already working on his next picture. Floating Skyscrapers is a story about Kuba (Mateusz Banasiuk), a young sportsman, who lives with his mother (Katarzyna Herman) and girlfriend (Marta Nieradkiewicz). His life becomes complicated, when he meets Michał (Bartosz Gelner). The homosexual romance brings out all the heretofore hidden family animosities. The director told Krzysztof Kwiatkowski from Wprost what follows:
I’m interested in people at crossroads, who find new things in themselves. I also learn about myself from these movies. The two films I made – the debutant In the Bedroom and Floating Skyscrapers – are about the search for intimacy. I watched them once with detachment and I realized how greatly I’m afraid of loneliness in life.
With his movie Wasilewski blazed a new trail. He showed homosexual characters as fully-fledged dramatic heroes. In a conversation with Culture.pl he said: 'I can’t think of a Polish movie, which spoke of homosexuals seriously. I wanted to look at my heroes as I would at complex personalities'. Wasilewski added journalistic contexts to the subtle melodrama. He turned Floating Scyscrapers
into a story about loneliness, homophobia and the impossibility of communicating.
The movie was a hit at international festivals. At first Floating Skyscrapers was deemed best European drama movie at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Later the movie received audience laurels at the Nowe Horyzonty (New Horizons) festival in Wrocław. The picture won also the East of the West Award at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. At the 38th Gdynia Film Festival Wasilewski was deemed greatest directing talent and Marta Nieradkiewicz received an award for best supporting actress. Tomasz Wasilewski received the award for Best Director at the 13th Transilvania International Film Festival.
United States of Love
In 2016 Wasilewski’s third feature hit the screen. United States of Love, a drama set in 1990, just as the Soviet bloc is crumbling, centers on four women struggling with love and loneliness. Agata, a young mother, is stuck in a marriage lacking passion; Renata, an older teacher is fascinated by her young neighbour Marzena, the local beauty queen. Finally Marzena's sister, Iza, the school's headmistress who is the secret lover of one of her students' father. The film is partly inspired by Wasilewski's own childhood memories. The director received the Silver Bear for the script at the 66th Berlinale from a Jury led by Meryl Streep.
After the Berlin premiere, Urszula Lipińska wrote for Stopklatka:
Presenting in United States of Love four incredibly lonely women, stuck in a trap of unfulfilled love and hiding their feelings behind pale faces, Tomasz Wasilewski sums up two decades of Polish freedom.
The Polish-Swedish coproduction was praised by the critics for an amazing set of roles, both male and female by Julia Kijowska, Magdalena Cielecka, Dorota Kolak, Marta Nieradkiewicz, Tomasz Tyndyk, Andrzej Chyra and Łukasz Simlat. Widely recognized is also cinematography by Oleg Mutu, a Romanian cinematographer, who realized such films as 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days directed by Christian Mungiu and In the fog directed by Sergei Loznitsa.
- 2015 – United States of Love, screenwriter and director.
- 2013 – Floating Skyscrapers, screenwriter and director.
- 2012 – In the Bedroom, screenwriter and director.
- 2008 – Show jednego człowieka (One-Man Show) - documentary. Screenwriter, director and producer.
- 2001 – Nawiść (Horrence) – school etude. Screenwriter, director and producer.
Sources: Polityka No. 46/2013, Wprost No. 29/2013.
Author: Bartosz Staszczyszyn, translated by: Marek Kępa, updated by NMR, July 2016.