A frame, a film. Great cinema. You have to see it with your own eyes to believe it. “The Balcony Movie” by Pawel Lozinski won the International Documentary Grand Prize on January 22 at the International Documentary Festival in Biarritz. For two and a half years, the Polish director, sitting on the balcony on the first floor of his apartment in Warsaw, hailed, questioned and filmed passers-by on the sidewalk in front of his building from his balcony. And these street confessions on the meaning of life overwhelm us with humor, depth and wisdom. Fipadoc’s favourite.
RFI : You offer Fipadoc viewers the opportunity to watch the first “ balcony movie ” of their life. And among the passers-by, many asked you the question what kind of film you are making. After finishing The Balcony Moviedo you know today what you actually did ?
Pawel Lozinsky: [Rires] That’s a good question for viewers. Me, I do not know. I told them it’s a film about the meaning of life. It all started when I had no idea for a new movie. I wanted to stop for a while and reflect on a story, look and listen around me. I had decided to change the rules. I didn’t want to run after subjects anymore, but just wait and let the world come to me, let the whole world come into my frame. That’s what I did for over two and a half years sitting on my balcony.
When you spoke, sitting on your balcony, with passers-by on the sidewalk below, were you surprised at the depth and wisdom of the people ?
Yes, because, at the beginning, I was afraid that this distance of five meters between me and my interlocutors would be too great. I worried that they wouldn’t talk to me or only get superficial conversations. Eventually, I feel like I’ve created some sort of age-old confession for them. As I was always there, I became a kind of piece of furniture. They knew they could come to see me every day and tell their stories. Some came back regularly. Thus, they became the main roles in my film. Their honesty and openness greatly surprised me. They weren’t afraid to share all of this with me. I think people really have this need to have someone’s attention, to be listened to, to feel like they exist.
You have met characters of a surprising diversity, a pregnant woman who will later proudly present her baby to you, a little girl admitting that she does not know any song by heart, others recount their divorce or their homosexuality. Or that man who slept in his car in front of your building because he was fired. What is the meeting that marked you the most? ?
There are so many, but I really enjoyed meeting the man who had just been released from prison and then became a friend, seeking my advice. There is also our building caretaker who, every day, in summer and winter, cleaned the sidewalk in front of the building, therefore also the setting of my film. She is a kind of Sisyphus, but a happy Sisyphus, because she has found in her work a meaning for her life. Or the very shy young woman who has the same name as my wife, Agnieszka. At first she didn’t even want to talk to me, but eventually she decided to get in front of the camera. We bonded and today she greets me on the street. It turned into a kind of communion between the protagonist and the director. Normally, when you make documentaries, you often have to give birth to stories, to push people to tell things. In my Tea Balcony Moviethanks to the distance between the balcony and the sidewalk, they felt completely free to answer or not, to stay in the field of the camera or to leave the frame.
You have never had a violent reaction after asking a question ?
No. I was always very nice, very polite and always smiling. When you want something good from people, you have to be nice. I tried to understand everyone, even the far-right young men who marched in the street in front of my building on Poland’s Independence Day. I don’t like them, but I can talk to them and listen to what they have to say.
Your movie is entirely defined by the frame. After this very courageous experience of limiting yourself and entrusting yourself to a frame, do you have the feeling that each frame can be transformed into a film ?
I think every frame could become a movie, but as far as I’m concerned, that frame should be full of interesting characters. If there are characters, I can make a film. Of course, if I place the camera elsewhere, the result will be different, in another city, the film will also be different. To come back to the question what kind of film I have made, I would say that it is a kind of human comedy. At the end, the viewer has a sense of hope that life is beautiful and well worth living, because many people think like you, have the same problems as you… We are not alone on earth. The people in the film are like a mirror for each of us.
Your film, is it a reflection on our time and today’s society ?
At first, I wanted to make a film just about human beings. Afterwards, I decided to add political elements. Today, in Poland, everything is unfortunately becoming political. If you are gay or lesbian, you are considered an enemy of our nationalist conservative government. For that, I decided to include in the film an old homosexual who, until now, had never dared to say publicly that he had lived for forty years with his partner. In front of his neighbors, he had always hidden his love and declared that it is about his brother. Or the young lesbian who walks with her friend and their daughter… This is something that is totally forbidden today in Poland. We live as in an Islamic Republic, with this Catholic Church in power. So I understood that I couldn’t skip saying something about contemporary life in Poland as well.
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► To read also: “New ideas” from Fipadoc 2022, the major documentary festival
FIPADOC 2022 winners :
International Documentary Grand Prize: The Balcony Movieby Pawel Lozinsky.
National Documentary Grand Prize: Marie-José will be waiting for you at 4 p.m.by Camille Ponsin.
Musical Documentary Grand Prize: Paraísoby Sérgio Tréfaut.
Impact Documentary Grand Prize: Revolution of our Timefrom Kiwi Chow.
Smart Price: Kusundaby Felix Gaedtke and Gayatri Parameswaran.
New Writing Awards: Seven Gramsby Karim Ben Khelifa.
Short Price: Blind spotby Lotfi Achour.
Best First Film Award: In put zapatosby Pedro Morato.