Saturday, May 28

The disturbing and free cinema of Andrzej Zulawski that “could not be shot today”

Xawery Zulawski, the son of the legendary director of possession, an anecdote that sums up the spirit of his father. When he was little, the lady who took care of him told him the following phrase: “Little boy, let’s go to church.” The boy Andrzej Zulawski, barely lifting two feet from the ground, replied: “Little boy… no; come on… no; church… no!” Ever since he was a kid he learned the power of that two letter word. That is one of the great lessons that he left his son, and it is one of those that are collected in the dossier that presents the cycle dedicated to the work of Zulawski that arrives from last April 21 and until the month of June to the Spanish Film Archive. “Remember, son, the key to freedom is the word NO,” he told her one day. In that anecdote, a free, irreverent, provocative creator is summed up, who made a cinema against the current. Wild, painful, disturbing. Cinema that still speaks of the present, because it is more modern than everything that is filmed.

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“My father always said no to everything,” adds Xawery Zulawski from Madrid, a few hours before the opening of this cycle that highlights a figure unknown to the general public but with a filmography that is cinema history. Perhaps his most popular work and the one that has become the most cult title is The possession. Before ‘high terror’ became fashionable again and before Titan won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, Zulawski had already competed at the Festival with this disturbing masterpiece that is much more than a film about a woman possessed by a tentacular monster.

Beyond its indelible images, like that jerky, bloody and sweaty ride of Isabelle Adjani on the subway; or that wild and bestial sexual scene that would later be honored by filmmakers like Amat Escalante in the wild region, there is an essay on toxic relationships. About a woman unable to feel free, forced to be a good mother, a good wife and a good lover. Even the monster that possesses her maintains a dominant relationship with her. The journalist Desirée de Fez expresses it very well in her book scream queen (Blackie Books), where he tells how he discovered in that mystery movie a dissection of all those patriarchal and abusive couples.

A radical cinema that his son is clear would have no place today: “Today it could not be shot. Today what he commands is money, and that imposes that there must be a guarantee of success. In today’s films, you think about who they are directed at, who is going to be the spectator and where they are going to be seen. That is why films are only made for festivals, because it is very good that they accept us at Cannes, or for the general public, and that makes the work of us, the directors, very predictable, and that it consists of the ability to foresee the emotions aroused by the film in question”.

Quite the opposite of his father’s filmography, where “the most important thing was the freedom of the creator, the director, the freedom of interpretation.” “His cinema of him was a force that pushed you towards the unknown, towards unknown emotions. A cinema that placed you in a new world, unknown, difficult to understand. I think that to enjoy my father’s cinema, the best thing is not to apply logical reasoning, but to let the films work within you, and I think that’s why people can still say how current they are, ”he says.

Although works like possession have become cult titles, Andrzej Zulawski’s son confesses that not everyone remembers his father’s work. “These are difficult movies. They are not movies that we are used to seeing. Not everyone is prepared for such a dose of emotions related to parapsychology, and to be clear, in the country where my father was born, grew up and lived (Poland), there are no retrospectives of his films. And the same can be said of France, where he made most of his films. There is not so much interest in his cinema. I would say that, in general, we don’t like difficult, unpredictable films that force you to confront art, because that’s what my father’s cinema did, confront you with art and show you the possibilities it has ”.

His cinema was a force that pushed you towards the unknown, towards unknown emotions. A cinema that placed you in a new world, unknown, difficult to understand

Xawery Zulawski
Film director and son of filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski

In Poland he suffered from communist censorship in many of his films, but he was never intimidated and made the films he wanted. “It seems to me, and I underline the ‘it seems to me’ because I did not talk much about it with him, but I think he did not fight against censorship, he did not care, he did what he wanted to do and then the censors fell out of their chairs”, Xawery explains. “The devil, who made it in Poland, was banned by the censors I think for 14 years. In About the silver globe they stopped filming in the middle and after that he had to leave Poland and made films in France. With the fall of the communist regime, he returned to Poland and only managed to make one more film, and there he encountered social censorship, because in Polish society, communism and Catholicism have marked society and that means that everything unusual, different and what freedom entails is not well seen”.

Xawery Zulawski continued his father’s legacy. When he was dying he left his son a script to shoot. At the time he didn’t care. “He told me to do what I wanted with it, and at the time I didn’t see myself as a movie director,” he remembers. Months later, the director’s producer told him that he had also given that script to him and that they should do it. He first said no, overwhelmed with responsibility, but finally rolled BirdTalkwhich premiered in 2019 and in which you can see the fear that Andrzej Zulawski had for the rise of the extreme right.

A film that speaks “of an erosion in European society of everything that is intellectual and philosophical”. “It’s like the erosion of a way of seeing the world. An erosion of knowledge, of the desire to learn. It is no longer fashionable to be intelligent, because an intelligent person asks questions, questions things, and nationalisms give you easy answers. Contemporary societies are in an apotheosis of stupidity, and an example of this is Instagram”, she points out.

In this context, art should pose these questions, make people think, something that doesn’t happen too often. “The cinema has been devalued, it is no longer a window to look at the world, it no longer offers a discourse between the director and the spectator, but rather it is something easy that simply consists of telling a story with images, without further ado. There are film creators who continue to try to maintain their own unique language, but this crisis affects everyone, because now we all watch films on platforms and going to the cinema to see a film is not so common. I don’t find an easy answer to how all this will evolve, to what will happen. I think it’s easier to make a movie now, but I’m not so sure that this offers better quality, and let’s be clear, I’m also caught in the same trap.