Wojciech Solarz: Declining Laughter by Ladybirds

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My uncle told me a few truths. He told me what it means to be a man among people. Why when we hear a phrase like ‘a pin fastened to the foreskin with an invisible thread,’ we can’t just ignore it, because it’s a part of us. We don’t know which one, but we can always find out.

Hello, Wojtek.

Hello there.

Today, we’re meeting for in this beautiful Polish China Town. 

It’s a great place. 

To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of yours because I usually associated you with some background roles – even though I must admit they were very distinctive. While preparing for this conversation, I went through your achievements in cabaret, films, La La Poland, and I must admit I’m really surprised that this kind of comedy exists in Poland; it was very hard for me to see. 

Thank you very much. We’ve been dealing with cabaret for about 10 years. I always liked this field and when I thought about acting, I always saw myself in cabaret and comedy. Even in the first year of my studies, everyone was saying that even if Wojtek Solarz was playing a poem by Herbert, he’d do it in a cabaret-style. As regards cabaret, our group was set up in 2010 of the need for absurd and an absurd journey across Poland, Warsaw and for us, actors. With Michał Walczak, who is the author of The Fire in the Brothel, we set up Kabaret na koniec świata in the Dramatic Theatre in 2010, and it still exists. Then, other people came around, Wawrzyniec Kostrzewski, our director, Maciej Makowski, Sebastian Stankiewicz, with whom we shot the film ‘The Beavers’, Olga Szarzyńska, Zuza Grabowska, Iza Dąbrowska, Robert Majewski – we started to travel across abstract worlds, which had always been close to me. La La Poland is a continuation of To the End of the World and it contains plenty of skits from it. When television decided to broadcast it, we were very happy and surprised because we really wanted to slip such kind of humour. We’d always wanted to do something like Monty Python, the masters of humour, or a Polish Little Britain. It wasn’t easy, but we’re heading in that direction. 

Yes, that’s true. I’ve also noticed that the film ‘Windows, Windows’, which you’ve directed, is like Monty Python from backwards. When the police catch the knights at the end of The Holy Grail, this is where your film begins. 

The scene with Sebastian Stankiewicz, who travels across different periods, was based on the story of those windows. Farewells about a boy, who walks in the woods, sees something and follows the light. I wrote this story and then turned it into a screenplay, but I had to begin it somehow. So I used another screenplay I’d written, which began with such silly historical starts. I wanted to make a film which would start, for example, from a scene where we’re talking, having an interview, then I look and see, the camera goes on a sunflower, and there we enter a story about algae, flies wander somewhere in Prague, some countries land, something sensational happens, we go into a historical situation, which leads us here through the sewers, someone comes in, for example, Marcin and says it’s over. Such kicks with the convention. Michał Walczak has always said that, confusing trails.

These are Lynch-like trails, just like, for example, in a scene from Blue Velvet. There was a rotting human ear in the glass there, which we entered and scraped through the tunnels. 

This stream of consciousness appears suddenly when you’re walking the street; something is triggered, associations, memories, etc. Then, the world teaches us to learn the alphabet, carry out an interview following a question-question pattern, adopt such a conventional perspective on the world, grow up and be more mature, and we sometimes reject those strange associations, which bring deeper or lateral emotions, states, or universes hammering on our door. If we opened ourselves to them – whether it’s more absurd or serious – we could create something broader.

Art shouldn’t imitate life one to one, because then, you only imitate something you see daily. It should rather distort reality and try to present all those elements that are in our head, our perspective on the world. And I think that’s what you do.

The purpose of art is to highlight and distort objects – then, when we think that way, it takes us to primary school with Krasicki’s tales, Fredro, Molier. They were the masters who would take that reality, distort it, and laugh at it. 

They put relationships between people over the real content. 

Without losing touch with it, because it’s important not to lose the line of sense, the primary sense. Windows, Windows, a story about a man sitting into a pulpit and performing an absurd job, is based on facts. Once, we were making a short film with Wajda School at the Borne Sulinowo training ground; several hectares of abandoned space. In the middle, there was a metal box, about ten metres high. I remember that I was sitting with Maciek Marczewski, we were playing some supporting roles, and looking at the guy sitting in that box. I was really curious who is sitting there all day, so we went up to the box, and there was that guy and nothing else. And he was just sitting there, there was nothing there, some dried slices of bread, and he was sitting ten metres up above the ground. There was nothing in front of him either, only the training ground and hectares of bushes. I asked what he was doing there, and he said he was covering for his brother, because his brother was watching the area, but broke his leg while coming down, and he had been covering for him for four months. So I asked him what exactly he was doing there. And he was like, ‘Sitting.’ I asked for how long, and he said that 14 hours a day. I asked whether he wasn’t bored, and he was like, ‘No, it’s fine.’ At the training ground, there are no animals. They all ran away, because it was an army training ground. There was nothing there, and the guy had to watch it anyway. I asked whether anything happened there at all, and he said that yes, that he saw a roe deer about three weeks before.

It’s said that life rhymes, because it’s not hard to draw an analogy between what he was doing and that nonsense people do in, for example, Warsaw. 

Working in a corporation etc. – what’s the difference? Of course, with all due respect for their work. Someone once said that if you see sense in what you’re doing, you can even clean up toilets and be great at it, doing good. 

The thing that sets apart the comedy you deal with, which I find interesting, is the moment of realisation that laughter requires suffering, because – without suffering – laughter is but a cackle. And I believe that comedy in Poland is often cackled, would you agree? 

That’s true. Indeed, whenever we take the camera or do something as a cabaret group, it must be rooted in reality, the joke must hurt you, distort you, be about something, cost something, you have to make an effort. It’s interesting, because it’s said that in Ancient Greece, drama comprised tragedy and comedy. Today, the drama is regarded as a higher element. And I guess it’s true, but there are plenty of opinions that comedy is higher than drama in some sense, because you don’t only need to filter it through yourself but also add a comic perspective. 

I also believe that you feel comfortable in awkwardness; difficult situations where people don’t know how to act, because there are specific social rules which they don’t understand but abide by. When those rules are distorted in a crooked mirror, they suddenly don’t know what to do. 

This figure of a confused boy, man, has always been close to me. I’ve always been fascinated with this archetype, exploring and combining different worlds. It seems that situations where people try to combine their worlds and don’t know how to do it lead to absurd, embarrassment. For example, someone told me about their first lesson at school. She came and wanted to go out to the children, but they were shy because they didn’t know how to act. She didn’t know that either, because it was her first day. It was silent. Then, she said something about learning and asked, ‘Do you have any questions?’ A boy raised his hand and said, ‘I wanted to say that watermelons are on sale in Lidl today; they were 6.80 zlotys, and now are 5.90.’ There were attempts to make contact from both sides, but the codes were incompatible.

I also think that as regards those cultural codes, the biggest problem is that they’re arbitrary. They don’t result from natural situations; it’s a little like tradition, and I guess Nietzsche once wrote about it, that some time ago, some group of people specified some model of behaviour based on the then reality and we, for some reason, follow it 100 years later. 

Exactly. We don’t adapt it to our reality. We live for the first time, so we need to learn all those truths but by discovering them ourselves.

Yes, it seems that this adaptation is very difficult. Conservatism, or some kind of traditionalism, provides us with stability. You know what is where and how to act in every situation. Breaking the pattern, what you’re trying to do, is much more difficult. People can’t accept it as their own space, don’t feel comfortable in it, because they don’t have any reference. 

That’s true, although I’ve always caught hold of something a little, or not, I’ve been learning that for years. Actors or families always say things like, ‘When are you going to be like Mr Łapicki?’ Or ‘I’d like you to speak as beautifully as Mr Zapasiewicz.’ And that’s fine, but everyone must find their own way, their own truth, to be a Mr Łapicki in their own way. 

When the mother was young, it was in style. 

And achieved the status of the canon. 

We always come back to our youth with fondness. And it’s not because it was great but because we were young at the time. I also wanted to talk a little about Windows and admit that I didn’t entirely understand the film; I tried to approach it in several ways, but I think I didn’t get the essence of it. Can you help me?

It’s my personal story about some farewell to a world where there is some hero, who lives somewhere, has some job, which is more or less absurd, he sits there, his friends fight somewhere with their capercailzies, while he, Wojtek, got lost somewhere. I also bid farewell to my relationship. And despite the life that is happening, which must come true, which he finds more or less interesting, his past is still stuck in his head, and he has to say goodbye to it. Windows, that girl, that recurring thought. It could also be someone who is sitting, and a ladybird is constantly landing on his arm and distracting him. He doesn’t know why, it’s just a ladybird. Finally, he realises that once, when he was madly in love, that ladybird was there, too. A recurring thing that keeps bugging him, some stream of consciousness when he walks into that room and sees that the relationship, that love is no longer there are he has to leave, and absurd things are happening around him. I just like to set such experiences in an absurd environment; it often seems to me that when we reach the periphery of our feelings, emotions, experiences, fears, depression, we face something deeper. We often do things which we wouldn’t normally do. You stay at home, and something keeps bugging you to such an extent that you go out. Normally, you’d go to a shop, buy a beer, and come back, drink to forget, but something keeps bugging you, and you suddenly do something else and go two kilometres ahead. This helps you clear your head; you go because something has pushed you. You reach some village, where you meet a guy, he asks you to drink with him, tells you a story of his life, and you think it’s incredible, because you were sitting at home for three years, and still, you turned out to be fine. 

Also that it’s his glass, and for us, this glass can be completely opaque while for him, it’s just reality.

Something keeps coming back, something that can’t be explained, and you need to take a closer look at it and talk about it, try to settle it down, and perhaps it’ll go away. 

That’s a good one. 

When you start to spit out some things, you get strange associations, such as a balcony balustrade. A true association, that it can’t be here, but it still is. And you just spit it out. It’s about some farewell and hope for a different world, a new opening, that’s why I’m going up from that hole. 

That’s also in hope for a new opening; thank you for the meeting. 

Thank you. Last week, my little daughter was born. 

Greetings to your little daughter. 

Yes, and greetings to my Asia.

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