Polish Cinema: Female Filmmaker Tackles Tough Issues

Malgorzata Szumowska

Of the notably healthy crop of women filmmakers emerging in Poland, few have found stronger resonance abroad recently than Malgorzata Szumowska, (pictured)who took a feature Teddy at last year’s Berlinale for her thoughtful and moody study of a gay priest’s turmoil, “In the Name Of.”

The atmospheric and nuanced tale, co-written with lenser Michal Englert, was also co-produced by Szumowska and navigates deftly through waters of moral conflict that have dragged down many other Polish filmmakers. Although her focus is on complex and credible characters, Szumowska seems to relish taking on hot-button social issues and feels no compunction to steer clear of sensitive subjects; religious hypocrisy, the persistence of homophobia in conservative Polish communities and the occasional condescension of even liberal minded Poles all come under her examination.

Her latest project and sixth feature overall, “Body,” , is, like “In the Name Of,” a return to her roots after working on the Paris-set “Elles,” in which Juliette Binoche played a journalist increasingly caught up in her story on young prostitutes.

“From film to film I’m still finding new things,” Szumowska says.

That applies as much to working with a star and filming in French as to her new project, which explores lonely men and women’s relationships to bodies, both physical and spiritual.

Although “Elles” did well on the fest circuit and the project got her on board with Memento, which also repped “In the Name Of,” the outspoken director is comfortable enough for now working on a budget of less than €1 million ($1.4 million) with a Polish cast and local funding.

She can afford to be, with Western distribs familiar with her distinctive work, thanks in part to her success at Locarno in 2008, when “33 Scenes From Life” took the jury prize.

The story of “Body” follows a police investigator and single father who finds himself balancing his forensic work with the dilemma of an anorexic daughter. Each character is wrestling with the corporeal, the director explains, and all, in Catholic Poland, are trying to reconcile with “the body of Christ.”

With such a limited budget, she adds, backed by the Polish Film Institute and HBO, “you can do kind of what you want — people leave you freedom.”

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