"I CONSIDER MYSELF A GUEST INVITED TO MY PROTAGONIST'S WORLD" - INTERVIEW WITH PIOTR BERNAŚ
Among five Polish documentary films, which qualified for the participation in this year's edition of the IDFA Festival, there is "Life of a Butterfly" by Tomasz Bernaś. In Amsterdam, the film will compete for the award in the Mid-Length Documentary Film Competition. We would like to invite you to read the interview with the author.
Daniel Stopa: "Life of a Butterfly" is another film of yours, in which you portray a strong protagonist, a contemporary "gladiator." Why does this type of a protagonist interest you most?
Piotr Bernaś: It is a very complicated issue. My perceptions of this type of protagonists such as Przemek ("Paparazzi") and Marcin Różalski ("Life of a Butterfly") are usually two-fold and highly polarised. On one hand, there is dislike and heavy criticism. These emotions refer to their superficiality, the masks which they wear, the myth which they would like to become. All this that can be seen from the outside makes me feel repulsed by my characters. I see a stereotype.
However, a question occurs to me, what is hidden under this superficiality, on which they worked so hard, but which pinches them all the same. In general, what I notice there is a lost man, a scared man, trapped in his own ego. In one word, a contemporary man, who lost his bearings. And this is the other side of my perspective - empathy arises in me. I notice a part of myself and a part of everyone there, I see our dreams, our endeavours to fulfil them, mistakes we make in our lives, distortions, and at the same time enormous, still not developed on a larger scale, potential to become better people.
Your protagonists are not one-dimensional and thanks to this, they seem much more real to us and their stories are closer...
I am sure that my protagonists, just like each of us, have the same great potential to create beautiful and lofty things, just as to destroy everything around them. We can choose the road of love or the road of hatred. It seems to me that these roads run parallel, very close to each other. Often we do not notice when we are already on the other side of the mirror, not necessarily where we would like to be. Sometimes, the return to the right way seems downright impossible and unfeasible, but it often turns out that the return is within one's reach. I believe that our real strength is hidden in our weaknesses, the ability to understand them, accept them, and overcome them. I love a weak man, who has fallen, but who wants to rise. Such a person impresses me. However, I have a very critical approach to all kinds of myths built on the cult of power and might. It is in our weaknesses where our strength is hidden. You can also reverse this statement and say that weakness and fear hide in our strength. Definitely, I prefer the first version.
How does co-operation with such protagonists look like? In the film, the camera very often follows the protagonist, we feel as if we were behind him. Marcin is a man who fights constantly. He always wants to be the first, the best...
Co-operation with protagonists of this type is never easy. As a film-maker, I often consider myself a guest invited to my protagonist's world. A guest, who should respect the conditions imposed on him with humility and gratefulness. Thanks to this perspective I can vanish, create appropriate conditions so that the camera becomes invisible and imperceptible. I also have time to understand the reality in which I found myself before I start coming to any conclusions, provoking certain situations and analysing the results of these provocations. My relations with Marcin also had their own dynamics. There had to be the stage of mutual "sniffing," the stage of "being shown around," but also the stage of "coming unstuck;" the moment of looking at the protagonist's reality with my own eyes and through my own sensitivity. It is the moment of confronting the protagonist with certain choices, which in my film and in a sense through this film were offered to him.
You mentioned that you have a critical approach to sport based on the myth of strength, but, willy-nilly, you had to come to grips with this myth.
In general, sport as such has not interested me and does not interest me now. Personally, I do not consider MMA a sport discipline, in spite of the fact that some circles want very much to promote it in such a way. Some kind of starting point was my personal critical approach to the situation of organising brawls in public, but for me, the essence was portraying the man, who found himself in this trap, or, literally, in this cage. I wanted to concentrate on his pain, exertion and obsession. I wanted to ask about the personal price which he has to pay for all that. With the passage of time, elements of psychology and hallucinations also appeared in the film. The fact that my protagonist strives to "improve" his body according to his own will and imagination is the matter of his personality.
In the film, Marcin faces an important challenge, namely, the end of his sport career. He says openly that death in the ring is his dream. It is a problem affecting every athlete...
In our conversation, I would like to leave the subject of sport behind as far as possible, because, as I have mentioned, I am not interested in it at all, and rather concentrate more on the issue of addiction and finding yourself in a trap in your life, in a situation from which there is seemingly no escape. This subject matter is much more close to my heart, since I experienced it many times myself. I think that it was in such a moment in his life that I came upon my protagonist, the moment of summing up his life and making the decision what to do next. Whether Marcin would have the strength and courage to take another step and begin his life anew, as a "civilian," I have no idea. I wish it to him with all my heart. What awaits him when he continues to do what he is doing now? I think that there is only one answer and certainly it is a way to fulfil his fantasies about dying in the ring. What this film might have become for my protagonist, was the chance to look at himself from a distance and to come to his own conclusions. I hope that it would be such a chance for personalities similar to Marcin's. For me, this film became such a chance. I cannot give more either to Marcin or the viewer... and I have already gave something to myself.
Are you still in touch with Marcin?
I think that our worlds are too distant from each other that it is enough for us to respect one another and our diversity and independent points of view.
Thank you for the interview.