SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you intend to watch the film.
Berlinale Silver Bear winner Tomasz Wasilewski isn’t afraid of the subject of his latest film “Fools,” even though he focuses on an incestuous relationship between a mother and a son, played by Dorota Kolak and Łukasz Simlat.
“It was never my intention to shock anyone. I just wanted to tell the story of the hardest love of all,” the Polish director tells Variety.
“Fools,” produced by Extreme Emotions and lensed by Romanian DP Oleg Mutu, is set to premiere in Karlovy Vary Film Festival’s new section Proxima. New Europe Film Sales is handling the sales.
“I was wondering what would happen if someone close to me came to me now, saying they were in a similar relationship. I guess, and I can only guess, that at this point in my life, it wouldn’t be a problem,” he adds.
Wasilewski met with some experts analyzing the subject of incest while developing the script. But his role is not to defend such pairings, he stresses, also noting that he shows a consensual relationship between two adults.
“I think it’s important to underline this: it has nothing to do with violence or abuse,” he notes.
“I was just moved by the idea that such people are completely excluded by others. But if they are not hurting anyone, what right do we have to destroy their lives?”
Wasilewski, who has gained arthouse recognition thanks to “Floating Skyscrapers,” about a gay relationship, and “United States of Love,” has always been interested in the kind of love the world doesn’t understand or doesn’t allow.
“I’ve always thought of them as a married couple, not a mother and a son. I saw two people who fell in love with each other, under incredibly difficult circumstances. When Dorota said she couldn’t do the film because she didn’t understand it, I didn’t understand her,” he laughs.
Kolak, who reunites with Wasilewski after her acclaimed turn in “United States of Love,” admits it took some time for her to see herself in the story. It was the conversation with producer Ewa Puszczyńska – behind Oscar-winning “Ida” and Oscar-nominated “Cold War” – that finally convinced her. Puszczyńska serves as an executive producer on another Karlovy Vary entry, Jake Paltrow’s “June Zero.”
“This script obviously forced me to revise the answers that were simple for me so far. It forced me to open my head and my heart,” says the actor.
“No love, not even maternal love, is ever simple or easy. And the relationship with adult children is always more complicated than the love for a child. I am the mother of an adult daughter and our relationship was sometimes turbulent.”
“I realized that life is sometimes so unimaginably complex and films are also here for us to finally look at each other. And try not to judge. Humanity has so many elements and shades that it’s cruel to marginalize a person just because they have made different choices from the ones that are commonly accepted.”
The film, not shying away from the physical side of Marlena and Tomasz’s relationship, also marks the first erotic scene in Kolak’s long career.
“I wanted to show a woman in her 60s. I’ve heard some voices that they should be younger, that it would make their sexuality a bit ‘easier to digest.’ But I didn’t want to tell a story about the beginning of love, I was more interested in its end,” says Wasilewski.
“Tomek helps me overcome my fears, insecurities and shame. He pushes me into completely unknown spaces. You could say that in this case, interesting always means difficult,” adds Kolak. Mentioning she has “total trust” in her director.
While it was never Wasilewski’s intention to hide the film’s controversial subject, he wanted to ease the audience into it, allowing them to spend some time with the characters first. But when Marlena decides to bring home her other son, suffering from a debilitating illness, the reality she carefully constructed for her and Tomasz begins to crumble.
“My grandmother was dying in a hospice. I was much younger back then, but this sense of leaving a helpless person behind, at the mercy of others… It seemed terrible to me,” says Wasilewski.
“Marlena left her children, but she was forced to do so. She left them because she wanted to live. At one point, she starts to think of Tomasz as her son once again. Which to him, is just terrifying.”
Creating a special place for the doomed couple (“At the end of the world, where there is rough sea, but the air doesn’t move,” he says) Wasilewski wanted to show their isolation. Hoping that now, after the pandemic, the audience will understand it a bit better. He also embraced some religious imagery in the film, a move that could incite controversy in his native Poland.
“I grew up in a Catholic family. I’m no longer a believer, but you grow up with these rules, with the concept of heaven and hell, the fear of punishment. For me, they believe in God – Tomasz still wears a cross around his neck. They clearly need it, and no one can take it away from them,” he observes. Admitting that he will try to push the limits also in his upcoming project, produced by Puszczyńska.
“Ewa is heartbroken, because once again I will talk about very difficult topics,” he jokes.
“I haven’t learnt any lessons, clearly. But if I would, if I would start approaching it all in a calculated way, I don’t know if I would still want to make movies.”