Director Agnieszka Holland is no stranger to Hollywood, having directed such feature films as Washington Square (shot in Baltimore) and The Secret Garden, among others, plus episodes of The Wire and Treme. Now, with her latest release, In Darkness, she returns to her home country of Poland.
City Paper : I read that the film was originally written in English, but you had fought against that.
Agnieszka Holland: Watching the Holocaust movies, movies from the second World War set in Poland or Russia, and to make [one] in English, I always felt quite uncomfortable. I had impressions that it makes things so conventionalized, theatrical, that in some ways it’s very difficult to reach the truth, the inner truth of the story. I needed in some way this authenticity in order to believe that what I’m showing is true. That’s it’s not just a film. That it is the reality.
CP : Has your choice affected distribution at all?
AH: You know, it’s complicated. It’s hard to distribute a low-budget Holocaust story anyway. So you have to do something which distinguishes itself from the bunch of movies. And I have the impression that you can attract people if they feel that what you are doing is deeply authentic and there are some differences between this film and the other films which look a bit like the TV movies. I think you can eventually convince people that the movie you did is worth it to watch if they have the impression that they are making it some kind of experience, some kind of journey.
CP : How did all of the different languages used in the dialogue come together?
AH: Well first, you know, first I thought that I would shoot in Polish, and then I realized that if I wanted to express this reality I have to shoot it with the real languages of this place. And Lvov was this multicultural, multilinguistic, and multinational city. So I decided that all of the actors involved will be learning the languages they don’t know. For like two months, I did some kind of language school for them. And when we ended, they did the characters.
CP : It seems like with this latest film, the actors had to go through quite a bit physically. What was that like for the cast and crew?
AH: They are very devoted and very brave. But yeah, especially for the guy who plays Socha, the sewerworker, that was physically very difficult. After a long shoot in very cold weather, he was, like, walking in the icy cold water, and at the end of the shoot he was just sitting and quietly crying. So it was like [an] extreme sport. But, you know, he was rewarded for that. He was happy after.
CP : With film, you’re working with people and you’re working with really complex equipment. How did you keep everything together in such a harsh environment?
AH: I was screaming and swearing. I even, you know, hit somebody once. It was the most extreme shooting. There were one or two days where I was thinking we won’t finish it. That we’ll stop; we cannot do it anymore.
CP : What kept you going in that moment where you thought you just couldn’t go on?
AH: We lit the set in one way, and it didn’t work at all. So I realized that we don’t know how to shoot it, you know. And after some hours of panic, the cinematographer came with a new idea and we changed everything.