Shot in the beautiful ‘land of a thousand lakes’ region in northeastern Poland, Małgorzata Szumowska’s new feature W imię (In the Name of) is an intimate, powerful film about desire and repression.
Hip, charismatic priest Father Adam (Andrzej Chyra) joins a small provincial town to teach a group of unruly boys during the summer. Amid dusty, testosterone-charged games of football, confessionals, days swimming in the lakes and late nights in the dormitories, Szumowska explores sexual longing and intimacy in the moments they are denied, feared and finally expressed.
Following on from 2011’s Elles – which starred Juliette Binoche as a journalist both disgusted and utterly intrigued by prostitution in Paris – Szumowska’s latest work shows her to be a daring and open filmmaker, fascinated by the fundamental urges that shape our everyday existence. Basia Lewandowska Cummings spoke with the writer-director in London in September 2013…
BEV: How did you come to the story of W imię?
MS: I kept it in my mind for a long time. I used to be a Catholic when I was a teenager, so I was close to the religion, and to the priests. And I knew a lot of the literature about Christianity. I took it very seriously. Then I quit, both the church and the religion. But it stayed in my mind. I was thinking that perhaps I should do something with this knowledge. Much later I read an article in a newspaper about a priest who was killed by a young boy, and nobody knew why, but there was so much gossip flying around suggesting that perhaps they had had a homosexual relationship. I found it very interesting, because nobody in Poland has made a film about priests or homosexuality. So I started working on a script, while being very conscious of the fact that I didn’t want it to be judgemental.
Your previous film Elles (2011) explores similar themes – of attraction, repulsion and repression – although in a completely different context.
These two films are very different, but both are occupied with a kind of sexuality that is denied. In Elles her sexuality is halted, and she doesn’t know much about herself, her feelings or her desires. In certain moments, she just opens up to it. In this film, the problem is similar because he is a priest, and his sexuality also doesn’t work out easily. The boy, Humpty [played by Mateusz Kosciukiewicz], who is the object of desire, well his sexuality is also locked, because he comes from a pathological family. So, it’s a meeting of people whose sexuality is awakened yet thwarted. Also, their loneliness links them. She’s lonely in this beautiful Parisian apartment, and he’s lonely because he’s missing God.
It’s interesting that sexuality seems to be the lens through which you see society – as opposed to understanding sexuality as manipulated, or mediated, by society.
Yes, you are right. I think it came to me at a certain point in my life, because I feel that women of a certain age discover what sexuality is, and in my opinion they usually do this quite late. I started to think about it when I was about 37. And then it came to me as something extremely interesting. So I started to explore people through their sexual behaviour, and the taboos around that. You see all this stuff in the newspapers: “How to Get an Orgasm.” It’s all bullshit. People talk about sex very openly, but it isn’t truth.
The film is quite ambiguous in its portrayal of the church. You don’t take a strong stance for or against it.
I wanted to keep it open, and ironic. It would be too easy to make a very judgemental film, attacking the church, showing a priest who is a paedophile. I think some people missed this in my film. In Poland quite a few people felt it could have been a more radical film. It would be too obvious, in my opinion.
How was the film received in Poland?
Very well! We had a huge box office taking, which is quite surprising as some people might find it a bit boring. It’s a dialogue. It’s still in discussion.
Haneke, Almodóvar. Paradoxically, male filmmakers. But a person who really helps and supports me is Agnieszka Holland. She passes through so many excellent ideas, and she’s made so many excellent films. She’s very experienced. But there aren’t enough women directors; it’s still very male. I hope it will change. It’s complicated. I’m counting: only four women have received Golden Lions, four Golden Bears, one Palme D’Or and one Oscar. Which gives only 10 awards to women in the history of cinema. Strange.