News from the Locarno Festival

Universal Zulawski

Universal Zulawski


© Isabelle Vautier


Your last film, La Fidélité, came out in 2000. Did you miss making films?

Not at all. I’ve written 15 books since then. I couldn’t explain why I didn’t make a film in 15 years, although I consider this era in the history of cinema to be quite drab. But I didn’t just watch time go by. They were productive, lively years.

How did this adaptation of Witold Gombrowicz’s Cosmos come about?

Cosmos is an important novel in Poland. Gombrowicz is not someone you could easily “love” but like all young people at age 20, I was nourished by this book and cherished its insolence. When Paulo Branco, who had produced La Fidélité, called me last year and asked if I knew Cosmos, I was so shocked I fell off my chair. A producer who reads novels is already a curiosity, but one who reads Gombrowicz?

What were the main challenges in adapting the novel?

Gombrowicz’s subtle and utterly perverse intelligence was the main obstacle. He clearly didn’t have cinema in mind when writing! But the difficulty of adapting the novel made it all the more exciting. The novel takes place in a small village in Poland before World War II, which I found too claustrophobic. I tried to “open” it as much as I could. Most of all I wished to be faithful to Gombrowicz’s spirit. I certainly hope I succeeded in doing so, otherwise he will beat me up when I join him in hell!

Are you aware that the film is quite funny?

I’m really glad to hear it. Even if that’s not what one thinks of him spontaneously, Gombrowicz’s writing is so surreal that it’s bound to be very amusing at times. I tried to keep those traces of humour that I spotted in the novel.

How did you get your actors to produce such committed and impressive performances?

That’s a trade secret, I would never answer that question! Feel free to ask the actors themselves. All I can say is that I find them all absolutely terrific. I didn’t know who would end up embodying these characters, having been disconnected from the world of cinema for a few years. So we carefully looked for them one by one, and I’m very happy with our choices.

Could you describe your working relationship with producer Paulo Branco?

After I agreed to direct the film, he came to Warsaw to discuss the project. After I delivered the screenplay he explained that it was very difficult to finance it. It may be Paulo Branco’s method, I don’t know, but it must be efficient as he produced a good 300 films! My feelings about him are all over the place. On the one hand, I want to kill him as I’m not getting any money. On the other hand, he allows filmmakers to create exceptional films, which is a rare gift. It’s not my place to judge the product of my own work, but I do know that Cosmos does not look like other films out there.

Did the experience of Cosmos make you want to go back to directing more films?

We will see what happens, but I think so, indeed. I’ve written a new screenplay…

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