"The ability to communicate with the audience in Polish is very important to me"
Monday 22 January, 2018
Writer-director Pawel Maslona discusses his feature debut, the black comedy Panic Attack, which is one of the most eagerly anticipated films of 2018 in Poland and a critics’ darling.
Writer-director Pawel Maslona discusses his feature debut with Cineuropa, the black comedy Panic Attack [+], which is one of the most eagerly anticipated films of 2018 in Poland and a critics’ darling.
Is it true that Panic Attack was originally set in Italy?
Paweł Maslona: Four years ago, actors Aleksandra Pisula and Bartlomiej Kotschedoff came to me with an offer of writing a script for a competition organised by the Venice Film Festival. There was one month left before the deadline, and the only obligation we had was to set some of the action of the film in Italy. Aleksandra and Bartlomiej brought me a lot of loose ideas, and all three of us were meant to bring everything together. We decided to write a script with intertwining plots, which would be bound by the garbage crisis that was happening back then in Naples. We didn’t win the competition, and when we applied for a subsidy from the Polish Film Institute, we were told that the text was good, but there was no reason whatsoever for the PFI to finance a film that takes place in Italy. However, we were advised that if we changed the story’s location to Poland, we would have a chance of getting the grant.
Eventually, the three of you re-wrote the text completely.
We left only scraps of two of the plotlines from the original script. We removed the garbage crisis theme, because in the Polish context it was too symbolic and too pretentious. I recalled a working title for my student film Magma – Panic Attack. We used this catchword to organise the form of the film. Next, we decided that the tales would not be happening in parallel with each other, even though the audience may see it that way, because that is the storytelling convention of that type of film.
Why did you decide to break that rule and spread the action of the film over a few months?
I get really annoyed by the mechanics of the formula that forces all events to be taking place on the same day. Blind chance plays key roles in stories like that, while in real life, people’s crises and dramas don’t coincide. Also, I decided it would be more interesting for the film if we showed that the characters have to face the consequences of their deeds after a few weeks or a few months. Additionally, I wanted to show how the life of one person can influence the lives of other people. All in all, that kind of narrative would surprise the audience more.
At which stage did you decide on the order of the plots within the film, and the amount of screen time each of them had?
It was decided when we were writing the script. During the editing process, we – meaning the editor, Agnieszka Glinska, and me – made only small changes. Usually, we would either cut or extend scenes a little because we could feel their actual duration.
So, referring back to the film’s title, I’d like to ask about the most stressful part of your work on the set.
It was a race against time, which is actually a concern for all directors, not only first-timers. We had only 23 shooting days, and with so little time, I felt in the morning that I was already behind. We worked at a very specific pace because we divided the shooting period into several parts: we would stage an entire story at a specific location and with all the cast, and then we would take a few days off. Otherwise we couldn’t do it.
It couldn’t have been so bad, since none of the plots feature a director that demolishes a film set out of sheer frustration.
I prefer to stay behind the scenes. The worst thing a director can do is explain himself or show himself in a positive light. If I ever decided to appear on screen, I would show my own caricature.
Since we’re talking about directors, who do you admire the most?
Definitely the Coen brothers, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Sergio Leone, Francis Ford Coppola and, to some extent, Todd Solondz. My latest love is Sidney Lumet; he was a directorial genius, and he could find the perfect and most relevant form for each film he made. With time, I started to prefer directors like Lumet over those who feel the need to leave their artistic hallmark on every film.
You only mention American filmmakers, and you almost made your first film in Italy. Does that mean that you would like to work outside Poland?
If it happens, it will be by chance more than anything else. I would definitely like to work abroad, get some new experience, and come into contact with different languages and cultures. If I worked in the United States, I could make films on a larger scale than I can here. Also, I could communicate with a broader audience than I currently do. American cinema is watched all over the world, while Polish films are watched mostly in Poland and sometimes at international film festivals. At the same time, I would feel as though I were missing something, because I am really attached to my mother tongue. And the ability to communicate with the audience in Polish is very important to me.