Polish helmer Anna Kazejak – fresh off showing “Fucking Bornholm” at the Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival – is now focusing on her upcoming movie “Symmetry of the Island,” based on a fragment of Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk’s ‘Flights.’
Currently in development and eyeing a 2023 autumn shoot, it will be produced by Warsaw-based Friends With Benefits Studio and co-produced by Yorgos Tsourgiannis’ Horsefly Productions, also behind “Dogtooth” and “A Tale of Three Sisters.”
“We want to make it as soon as possible and with an international cast,” says Kazejak, who has already worked with the acclaimed writer on the Netflix anthology movie “Erotica 2022.” She will co-write the script with Filip Kasperaszek, in collaboration with Tokarczuk. At the moment, the film’s set to be shot in English.
The story will see a middle-aged man going on a foreign vacation with his wife and son when suddenly both of them disappear. As he begins his search, everyone around him turns into a possible suspect.
Kazejak already took on holidays gone wrong in “Fucking Bornholm,” about two families heading to their favorite Danish island. But as emotions run high, no one will get to relax. Also co-written with Kasperaszek, it was recently awarded Europa Cinemas Label at KVIFF. Film Republic handles sales.
“That’s how I used to spend my holidays as a child and I have witnessed numerous dramatic situations as well,” Kazejak tells Variety.
“I remember doors slamming and adults crying, and whispers about imminent divorces. Funnily enough, I am on holiday right now, with the same girl I used to travel back then. And we are both divorced.”
Inspired by a true story – just like in the case of her 2014 feature “The Word,” shown in Berlin – Kazejak takes a closer look both at the parents and children, as a shocking allegation soon turns the mood sour and leads to some uncomfortable conversations.
“We just don’t see children as sexual beings – we expect them to first come of age. But they make certain choices and they experiment. We did a tremendous amount of work with the psychologists in order to make sure the viewers will understand that certain boundaries weren’t crossed, but we wanted to show the helplessness of these parents as well.”
As awkwardness slowly builds up, Kazejak found some humor in her characters’ predicament.
“Scandinavian cinema excels in creating such quirky, awkward situations and getting some laughs out of them,” she says, mentioning that programmers at KVIFF also enjoyed a different take to the typical, “full-on, slit-your-wrists” Polish drama.
“I wanted this film to show life as it really is, which is both tragic and funny. But apparently, we have a different sense of humor in Poland. When we were still looking for funding, people found it hard to believe this film would be funny at times.”
“Fucking Bornholm” – which also became an audio series, with the second season in the works – might develop into a franchise, with a series and a sequel also debated. But Kazejak remains open to alternative forms of distribution.
“It won’t have to be another theatrical release,” she says. Mentioning 2006 film “Ode to Joy” (co-directed with Jan Komasa and Maciej Migas) which she describes as the first Polish film distributed online.
“I got used to the fact that cinema, at least as we know it, is dying. As a filmmaker, I tend to look at what’s in front of me, not behind. And I am not afraid of it,” she says, also mentioning Friends With Benefits Studio, which she established in 2019 alongside Kasperaszek and Marta Lewandowska.
“I don’t take offense to other forms of distribution, but sometimes you feel like a content provider, not a creator. We created [this company] to make the film that we wanted to make, instead of succumbing to various pressures.”
With a complex protagonist played by Agnieszka Grochowska, glimpsed in “Teen Spirit” and Michiel Huisman-starrer “American Dream,” she wanted to break certain cultural patterns in her native country, starting with its views on what constitutes a good mother.
“What I don’t like about Poland is usually what I end up talking about,” she notes.
“When a woman gives birth to a child, people start seeing her just as a mother and her own needs take a back seat. There was some resistance to this portrayal. But that’s bound to happen when you touch on a sensitive spot.”
While 2022 could be viewed as a “historic” year for Polish female directors, they are still underappreciated at home, says Kazejak.
“Almost every major international festival shows a film made by a Polish woman. We had [Agnieszka] Smoczyńska at Cannes, [Anna] Jadowska at Tribeca, we are here, [Małgorzata] Szumowska made a Hollywood movie. All that is continuously downplayed in Poland,” she notes.
“We are seen as something between a child and a madman. [Poland’s] Gdynia Film Festival is about to announce its selection, and if all this was taken into account, half of the presented films would be directed by women. Unfortunately, I am expecting the worst. Maybe our daughters will be luckier.”