At Tallinn, we had the chance to sit down with Aleksandra Terpinska, writer/director of “Other People”. The Polish-French co-production, a highly original musical urban drama set in contemporary Warsaw, centers on the vicissitudes of Kamil, an alcoholic, wannabe rapper (portrayed by Jacek Beler) and Iwona (Sonia Bohosiewicz), a trophy wife devoured by her boring everyday life and her sexual urges. World-premiered at the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia back in September, the feature later took part in the First Feature Competition of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, where it won the prestigious FIPRESCI Prize on November 27th. Terpinska has crafted a solid, gritty debut, based on a novel by established Polish writer Dorota Masłowska.
I couldn’t find many English-language sources about the original book. How does it differ from your movie?
The book is much more complex, and there are many subplots. My main goal when writing the script was to focus on these particular characters and stories. The lead characters are the same of the original book but it’s been always very painful to scrap some secondary ones. The whole book is actually written as a poem, with rap lyrics. So you don’t see anything like proper ‘scenes,’ so it’s been like filming a poem. I had to figure out when and where scenes were taking place, and this left me with some room for creativity. For example, in the book there’s no scene depicting Iwona [Sonia Bohosiewicz] ripping out her heart. There’re just words describing how she feels and the staging of the scene was entirely original.
Roughly speaking, how much did you modify and leave unchanged?
It’s really hard to say. Somehow, when people who read the book watched the movie they told me that it’s very loyal, and you can still get the feel of the original book. There are more changes in terms of mise-en-scène, but the lyrics were almost untouched.
How did you cast your lead actor?
When I read this book first, I thought about Jacek [Beler] for the main character [Kamil], even though he was a little bit too old for us, so we looked for some younger actors. But we couldn’t find anyone. The casting process has been quite lengthy, since actors had to read and rap the scenes. Generally, if the performers were good at playing their role but not at rapping, we couldn’t cast them. Finally, I invited Jacek to see why I still had him in mind, we met and he played his part so well! We tried to figure out how to make him look a little bit younger, perhaps with some more make-up or some post-production effects.
How old is he?
He’s 36, but he looks younger.
Yeah, in the movie he looks like he’s in his late 20s. What about Aneta [Magdalena Kolesnik] and Iwona [Sonia Bohosiewicz]?
For the role of Iwona, we went through another long casting process. I also thought about Sonia initially, because she had already played in Dorota Masłowska’s first movie adaptation of one of her books [Xawery Zuławski’s Snow White and Russian Red]. Masłowska wrote that book when she was 18 and it was a huge success in Poland at the time. Sonia was playing a crazy, redneck girl there. So I thought it was interesting to cast her as a rich lady.
Did you do that to prove she’s a versatile actress?
No, no… I wanted to show that sometimes we want to be part of a higher social class – and this reveals something about Polish society as well – even though we don’t belong there.
I see. How did you work with your DoP, Bartosz Bieniek? The whole movie is shot with this murky, gray-toned visual style. How did that choice come about?
Bartosz and I knew each other since we started studying film. We’ve been working together many times, we’re friends and he was involved in the project from the very beginning, even during the development phase and prior to getting any funding. Of course, we discussed a lot about our movie’s visual style. We decided to depict “the lead sky above Warsaw,” so the scenery is really depressing, and really dark. We wanted to deliver this feel to the viewers. It’s been an easy process, after all. We understood each other pretty well and we discovered this peculiar style for our movie, which we called ‘epic-punk-rock.’
What are the women in film that inspire your work?
I love Jane Campion and Andrea Arnold, but also Polish filmmakers such as Małgorzata Szumowska and Aga Woszczyńska. I feel very much supported by female directors, especially in Poland. I know I can count on them and seek advice. It’s good to know that there’s this kind of mutual support among female filmmakers.
Glad to hear that. How did you kick off your career? What challenges are you facing as a woman filmmaker?
I attended the Katowice Film School, and I had the feeling that we were judged on the basis of our knowledge and our vision of filmmaking. I didn’t feel undermined at any levels. The atmosphere was good and we were treated equally. However, after 10-15 years in the industry, I can tell you that some changes are happening day by day. When we started, the film business was more focused on male filmmakers, and now you can see that the balance is getting much more equal. I felt many times that I had to prove my knowledge, though, and this is very frustrating. You feel like everyday you’re being tested, and you perceive that people don’t treat you seriously, they don’t listen to you. Once I was working on a commercial project and I went to talk to the first AD. I proposed some cinematic solutions to him but he told me to speak to the DoP, because he didn’t want to listen to me. He didn’t even realize the problem, but when he did, he learned a lot. The main issue is that we might not realize what we’re doing, sometimes these things are very ‘hidden.’ And I do ask this question myself, whether I’m underestimating a woman’s way of working. We were raised in a certain environment… I’m not demanding everyone to change. I want to push for change myself. For me it’s important to understand if I’m not trapped by this mindset myself. It’s all very subtle. Always ask yourself questions.