Interview: Dawid Ogrodnik

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Anna Pospieszynska met with Polish actor Dawid Ogrodnik, who stars in Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida and the inspiring Life Feels Good by Maciej Pieprzyca, both of which are screening as part of the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Irish audiences will have a chance to dive into two beautifully crafted stories, which are great examples of the “journey” cinema, so intensely focused on self-discovery and pursuit of a character’s own identity. So lets start from the beginning and your journey into acting.

My road has led me to confrontation with myself and defining what I want and how I can get there. I realised I had to stake everything on one card to reach my goals. Undoubtedly, it was a very difficult decision to make, particularly if you are 12 years old. Nevertheless, there was that nagging feeling of something awaiting me and I did need to see it. So I sold everything I owned and left thome to realize my dreams. There was definitely a lot of luck involved as I met many really good people on my journey, first in music and then at acting school. As a result of my decisions, I am here. The funny thing is that even now my intuition tells me there is more for me to discover so I needed to keep moving ahead.

Every journey might make you weary. Could you count on an emotional boost to push you forward?

I think each project I got involved in drove me significantly forward. Definitely one of the first key people I met was the director Leszek Dawid with whom I worked  on I am the God (Jestem Bogiem). Thanks to him I learned to be honest with the camera and that to pretend emotions is your worst enemy.  You have to really feel it regardless of how many times you have played it. Never try to ‘rewind’ feelings, as you would lose your realness.  Life Feels Good, with Maciej Pieprzyca, was the biggest challenge of my life and taught me a lot about humility and helped me see an actor’s work from a different perspective. Suddenly you dedicate your whole life to one project and it becomes your objective.

You have been presented as an actor who fishes for roles of the outsider, which places you in the great company of Dustin Hoffman, Johnny Depp or Christian Bale. At the same time it requires a lot of effort, time and energy. What makes them so appealing?

It is both challenging and inspirational. After some point you realize that the brain acts as an extremely absorbent sponge. It enables you to readjust and engage with a huge variety of elements and particulars, which brings you eventually to the stage of metamorphosing into a character you are to play. And this is what fascinates me in this job. On the one hand it creates a comfort zone as you are creating a persona you have nothing in common with in real life. On the other, there is a danger of the pastiche and grotesque sneaking into your work if you do not do it right. It is a risk you need to take but you need to get ready and be responsible for all pros and cons that go with it.

Looking at your character in Ida, I see his symbolic weight that enriches the life of Anna, the female protagonist. Like metaphysical doors, she has to enter through them to continue her path to self-discovery and change. How did getting involved in this movie transform your life?

The script was one of the reasons why I decided to take part in it.  Then there was my love of the saxophone and music. As the movie takes place in the ’60s, it was a very special time for Jazz, especially on the Polish scene. The director, Pawel Pawlikowski, wanted the soundtrack to reflect the movie’s ambience, which just added extra value to the project. In regards to my character, there was nothing extreme about him. However, what mesmerized me was the inner world he shared with the Anna, expressed by gestures, tunes and a desire to find an understanding, kindred spirit.

Polish Cinema is showing a new face, highlighting its more universal line of storytelling. We can see it in freshly produced pictures, such as Life Feels Good, Imagine and Lasting’ As a young actor attending international film festivals, how would you describe the audience’s reactions to this change? And what else would you like to see?

It is a very interesting direction. You can see how well received our movies were in 2013 and how many festivals have already included them, e.g. Montreal, Berlin, or even now in Dublin. I believe it is just the beginning. We might lack a directing personality that is not afraid of pushing it forward and embracing all new elements and themes that this trend can offer but we are definitely getting there. Also in terms of acting, Polish Cinema is very much rooted in a script which can focus on following a word-by-word structure, which definitely keeps us different, and it is great. However, maybe there should be just a bit more space for improvisation. You can see in American films that many directors give actors more freedom. Of course you don’t want to have it overdone across many scenes as often happens in such movies, but it might give us an opportunity to react to some situations more organically. Plus, we shouldn’t be afraid of experimenting as well as introducing new topics. Film is a limitless form of art and shouldn’t be confined or restricted by social taboos or difficult subjects such as homosexuality or transsexuality. I hope one day our cinema will be full of amazing scripts that give us a breath of fresh air, directed by young minds behind the camera, ready to steer us to new cinematic waters.

Click here for further coverage from the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

The 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival runs 13 – 23 February 2014,


 

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Report: 37th Montreal World Film Festival

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The Miracle

                     The 37th Montreal World Film Festival (22th August – 2nd September 2013)

 Anthony Kirby reports from the 37th Montreal World Film Festival, which featured Irish success. 

Two Irish co-productions; one Danish, the other Norwegian/Swedish, garnered top honours at the recently concluded Montreal World Film Festival.

For his portrayal of a troubled fundamentalist Lutheran Minister in the Danish/Irish film The Miracle, actor Peter Plaugborg shared best actor awards with veteran Quebecoise actor Marcel Sabourin, who stunned audiences in French-Canadian director Matthew Roy’s L’Autre Maison as a father struggling to keep hold on reality.

Shot in Co. Kerry by Danish director Simon Staho, The Miracle is a dark film strongly influenced by Ingmar Bergman. Johanna (Sonja Richer) a former competitive ballroom dancer is wheelchair-bound, the victim of a car accident. She’s unhappily married to Eric a village minister, who believes in a literal interpretation of the bible. Each Sunday Eric’s parishioners pray for Johanna’s recovery without avail. Johanna and Eric have a relatively well adjusted son, Christian.

Following the death of his mother Johanna’s first love Jackob (Ulrich Thomsen)  returns to the village. He threatens to demolish the village dance studio where Johanna teaches children. The studio was owned by his mother.

At Johanna’s entreaty he relents on one  condition – that she teach him to dance. Johanna agrees. Love blooms anew.

At a crowded press conference Simon Staho said that the question he wanted to pose was, “what is a miracle? Does a miracle happen because of faith or love? Denmark is a secular country. However, there are pockets of the country where a repressive Lutheran fundamentalism still exists. The film is set in the 1970s when this fundamentalism was more prevalent.”

Mr. Plauborg’s performance is nuanced and deeply felt. His honour is well merited.

thousand-times-goodnightA Thousand Times Goodnight

Norwegian director Eric Poppe’s A Thousand Times Goodnight, starring Juliette Binoche as a conflict-zone photographer, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) as her marine biologist husband, and Templeogue-native Lauryn Canny as their troubled older daughter, won the special grand prix of the jury plus special mention by the ecumenical jury. A former photo journalist for Reuters, writer director Poppe based the screenplay on his own experiences in Lebanon, Biafra, and the former Belgian Congo.

“Reporters get hooked on the adrenaline,” he told me. “I certainly did! The other thing is to deal with the fact that there is a life back home and the hardest thing is to deal with that, and readjust.”

Rebecca (Juliette Binoche) is one of the top war photographers. On assignment in Afghanistan, she’s embedded with suicide bombers and gets badly injured when the bomb explodes prematurely. Back in her home town another bomb falls. Her husband and two daughters are petrified that she’ll die in a conflict area. They’ve had enough. It’s either her photography or them. Her eldest daughter Stephanie (Lauryn Canny), on the cusp of womanhood, is especially conflicted. Her mother is absent when she needs her most. She begins to act out. Then the teacher in secondary school comes up with an assignment on conflict areas in east Africa. Rebecca’s contacts arrange for mother and daughter to visit a U.N. Refugee Camp in Eriteria. “It’s in a safe area”, says Stig, Rebecca’s colleague. “ I do hope so.” Rebecca replies. Mother and daughter fly to Cairo.

The conflict between Rebecca and Stephanie is at the very centre of the drama. What’s reputed to be a ‘safe’ area is not. Horsemen armed with submachine guns raid the refugee camp. U.N personnel insist that mother and daughter depart immediately. Rebecca insists that Stephanie leave but absolutely hooked on events she stays looking for that perfect picture of the brigands  unmasked.

Accepting the Special Jury Prize, Mr. Poppe said, “We just finished editing the film ten days ago. I wish to pay special tribute to Lauryn Canny as Stephanie. She’s just fourteen years old and is a born actress. The film wouldn’t have worked without her or the luminous Juliette Binoche. Sadly Juliette couldn’t come here because of a family celebration. I share this award with my family. Lastly, I wish to share this award with photojournalists everywhere especially Syria.”

420b2adf96f2a2e51193b9d2848125b5_XLLife Feels Good

The breakout film of the festival was Life Feels Good. Directed by Marciej Pieprzyca, this Polish film won the Grand Prix des Americques (the festival’s top award), the public award for most popular film, and The Ecumenical Prize, a separate juried award based on artistic merit, human dignity and Christian values. Based on the true story of a victim of cerebral palsy born during the communist era and mis-diagnosed  as mentally disabled Life Feels Good is a life-affirming film and well deserves all its plaudits. “The story of Przemac [the name of the real person on which the main character is based] is above all a pretext to ask existential questions about life, death, faith, love, normality and understanding,” said Marciej Pieprzyca.

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The Verdict

Jan Verhayen of Belgium won best director award for his riveting courtroom drama The Verdict.

A rapist and murderer is released on a legal technicality because of Article 71 in present Belgian Law. He cannot be retried. Unable to deal with his grief the husband of the murdered woman takes the law into his own hands, tracks down the perpetrator, and summarily shoots him. He’s immediately arrested.

During his trial the motivation of the husband and the flaw in the present Belgian legal system is highlighted. As Luc, the grieving husband, actor Koen De Bow gives an excellent performance.

At a press conference earlier in the festival, director Jan Verhayen said, “I’m releasing my film in mid-October to tie in with the re-opening of parliament in Brussels. This fault in Belgian Law is something the public has been aware of for years. Hopefully it will be remedied in the upcoming session.”

Among other awards, Jordis Triebel won the best actress award for her role in Christian Schowchow’s West as a young mother fleeing East Germany in the mid-1970s and starting a new life with her son. West also won the FIPRESCI Award given by the International Federation of Film Critics. The same federation awarded the prize for best first film to The Long Way Home, a Turkish film directed by Alphan Esil. This feature also won the Golden Zenith Award.

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Blink

Screened in World Competition, Blink, Conor Maloney’s first film, tells a complex story of repressed memory, love and captivity in just fourteen minutes. Audiences were captivated by the film. Question and answer periods following the three screenings were lively. Conor, his writer/producer Gavin O’Connor and team used their time in Montreal to make sales and new contacts. Conor is presently developing a science fiction love story.

Shown out of competition Steph Green’s comedy Run and Jump was well received by audiences. “The subject and the menage a trois is fascinating. We’ll certainly screen it in our upcoming Cine Gael season. Maxine Peak and Edward MacLiam’s performances are fantastic. I look forward to presenting it to our public,” said Lynn Doyle of Cine Gael, Montreal.

 

 

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