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Snow White, Russian Red

Tonight the Polish Film Festival brings Xawery Zulaski's dark, controversial underground masterpiece to these shores for the first time

The seventh annual Polish Film Festival, Kinoteka is currently running across various venues in London. A welcome celebration, it showcases some of the greatest achievements of contemporary filmmakers such as Feliks Falk (Case Unkown) and Waldemar Krzystek (Little Moscow) as well as the old masters like Krzysztof Kieslowski (Three Colours Blue). There’s also a retrospective of that ubiquitous spectre of Polish cinema, Roman Polanski, with a number of his best works screening at The Barbican and Riverside Studios. Though few Polish films reach the attention of the Western cinema going public – whether down to a chasm in language or cultural reference is unclear – there is such a rich and diverse tradition of spirited storytelling and artistic accomplishment in Polish cinema that Kinoteka is a must for anyone with an interest in cinema. Tonight is the premier of Snow White, Russian Red, the feature debut by director Xawery Zulawski based on the novel by Polish prodigy Dorota Maslowska, written when she was only 18 years old. Dazed Digital spoke to Xawery Zulawski about the film and its relevance to Polish culture.

Dazed Digital: What inspired you to write the screenplay?
Xawery Zulawski: I got this miraculous phone call of the kind young directors never get and each one of us is dreaming of. It came from a big fish; a big producer proposing a film with a budget based on one of the bestselling books of the last ten years in Poland. So, this is kind of miracle and a great adventure that happened to me. I wasn’t pushing to screen this book. Actually, I think this book has chosen me.

DD: What would you say the film’s about?
XZ: It’s very hard to answer what the film’s about because it comments on Polish existence on a few levels. We can observe the adventures of our hero guy, who is a typical Polish guy from the neighbourhood. One of the levels is that he’s searching for the love of his life, and while he’s on this quest we learn about the average Polish macho mentality. There’s a level that we call a parasymbolic level: that this guy doesn’t exist, it’s just an invention of a young 18-year-old girl who, instead of learning for her exams, starts to write a book about this guy. So, we go completely into another dimension. The film also speaks generally about the condition of the Polish state of mind.

DD: Is it generally agreed that the book focuses on the Polish macho mentality?
XZ: When I say to people that the book can be treated as a story about the average Polish male mentality, they say, “Bullshit, it’s about lesbian love!” Because actually this guy is written by a girl (Dorota Maslowska), and actually this girl is inside of the head of this guy. And she writes what she thinks, so she’s writing from a girl’s point of view. So we can consider that she’s living out a fantasy of another girl who has left her and because of that she’s writing a book about this girl, and this changes our adventure. This is what’s great: that a description of the average Polish man is told through a girl’s voice, so everything’s from a girl’s point of view.

DD: Is it solely relevant to Polish culture?
XZ: I really pity the English and Western viewers, because I think as a director that the film is very hermetically poised; it makes most of the central post. The language which actors are using in the film is not really a Polish language, it’s an invented language; and analysis of the Polish language made by this 18-year-old author. She writes as she hears us. In the language level, this is not the way we speak or say things in Poland, but it sounds really familiar. This is impossible to translate, but still the film has a lot of visual art so it’s still nice to watch, although you will not get it all.

DD: What intrigues you most about the author, Dorota Maslowska?
XZ: Dorota is inspired by her inspiration; it’s very spontaneous. It’s not like she read it in an historical book. We had a cultural revolution in Poland in the 1920s where writers were making changes in literature, and I think she is very much part of this tradition. She sees the world from a very strange, very Polish inner perspective, it’s also a very cynical point of view. The way she writes is absolutely unseen until now. A lot of writers today write in this reportage kind of way, not getting so much into the soul, into the spiritual and something which is ungraspable. And here in each piece of dialogue, Dorota is taking us to some really abstract world in which we find ourselves. It is very unique and also very funny.

DD: How was the book received when it came out?
XZ: This book divided absolutely the society of intellectuals in Poland. Many people said, “it’s vulgar, it’s vagrants on the street language, it’s unbearable.” But there are also absolute fans. And the film is very vulgar, you can see from that perspective. The hero is absolutely not a hero, he’s an anti-hero, but he’s got something inside of him that makes us laugh.

DD: In what way is he an anti-hero?
XZ: All his actions are anti-hero: he wants to fuck, he wants to sniff, he wants to get the money from somewhere that would be to steal it, but he doesn’t know how. He’s searching for the new drug, amphetamine or whatever, he’s bored in his life; he’s really not an interesting guy. But the story through which he is going and the way in which he is living through this story makes us like him. He’s funny, we like him even though he is a vulgar motherfucker.