Blowouts, Subconscious Beats: An Interview With HARDKOR DISKO Director Krzysztof Skonieczny

Blowouts, Subconscious Beats: An Interview With HARDKOR DISKO Director Krzysztof Skonieczny
Back in March I had a chance to talk with Krzysztof Skonieczny about his experimental, thrilling debut Hardkor Disko. I did not know a lot about him back then besides the fact that he's always busy; working on sets, shooting music videos, giving workshops and writing. I was even a bit afraid that to some extent he might be like Marcin (Marcin Kowalczyk) - the protagonist his film - who does not speak a lot, does not raise questions, and just prefers to do things quietly his own way. But Skonieczny turned out to be a talkative and open-minded person who cherishes a real dialogue. On the other hand he is indeed a truly independent artist who knows what he wants and what to do to achieve his goals.

His feature debut "was supposed to be radical, uncomfortable for viewers and not easy to recognize and interpret." And definitely it fits this description. Hardkor Disko is an unforgettable journey into the visually and formally mesmerizing world of Marcin - the killer - and Ola (Jaśmina Polak) with whom he has a strangely oblique relationship. Since the film is open to endless interpretations, some critics compare it to Michel Haneke's movies, others link Hardkor Disko with Pier Paolo Pasolini or Jim Jarmusch films. I would prefer to focus on Skonieczny himself, taking him as a fully independent artist who clearly speaks for himself. 

Since this first meeting of ours, Skonieczny has been awarded with the Golden Amber for the Best Polish Debut of the year, participated in Locarno Filmmakers Academy and shown his film on countless international film festivals. Autumn brings Hardkor Disko's US-premiere during Fantastic Fest in Austin,  as well as its Latin American premiere in Mexico during Oaxaca Film Festival, which is dedicated to the recognition and advancement of outstanding achievement in cinema.

You are an actor, director and writer. This interdisciplinary approach to art is not truly appreciated in Poland, where you usually work. Too many people think that an actor should not direct; a painter is not able to write a novel. Our culture does not value comprehensiveness, only specialization.

KS: If we speak of the general attitude, and not only towards art, people all over the world do like pigeonholing others and attributing definite roles to everybody. We like what we already know and what is predictable. Yet, at the same time we are all torn between order and chaos, since we live in a melting pot of values, philosophies and religions. It creates a slightly schizophrenic mood, which I wanted to capture in Hardkor Disko. In my opinion film is a piece of art that combines many different activities - writing, painting, sculpting the characters etc. Artists who've cherished an interdisciplinary attitude inspire me. I appreciate Bruno Schulz and T.S. Elliot's outputs; I love Stanisław Wyspiański and Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz. Those are extraordinary artists who lived and worked against society and its rules. Being an outcast costs you a lot, yet I do believe that versatility is a human's domain. My father would tell you that since childhood I wanted to have too many irons in the fire, so I ended up doing nothing very well. On the other hand, maybe I always wanted to try it all, to test it out for myself. Perhaps this is why I went to acting school.

And perhaps that's why you became a director afterwards?

Yes, a director needs to be good at more or less everything. It is a profession based on synesthesia; and I am both synesthetic and hedonistic - I appreciate moments where all my senses, symbiotically bonded, do work at high frequencies. GłębokiOFF [Deep OFF] - a collective of artists that I am leading - is also built from very dissimilar elements that are glued together. GłębokiOFF is based on the idea of cherishing creative, independent, auteur and comprehensive methods of working and filmmaking. Moreover, since the legendary Polish film-teams from the sixties laid the foundations for our idea of sharing experiences and skills within the group, we do have very strong roots and... kind of a mafia-like structure...

...and you play the role of the Godfather?

I wouldn't be so eager to use that term.  That comparison is going a bit far. I would rather say that as a director I am the hidden master of the ceremony. In my life I was enrolled in many art collectives that cherished a democratic attitude. Sooner or later they all disintegrated. Why? Decisions can't be made by everybody together. There's place neither for democracy nor compromises once we talk about art. I would say that głębokiOFF is also a certain state of mind. Sometimes I meet people who feel the same as me, synchronize with me and remain with the collective. I also meet the ones that break off from the immediate group and become its satellites. Yet, as a leader I am looking for people who are absolutely dedicated to art. The ones who are bleeding themselves dry pushing for a higher standard. I am seeking co-artists and co-workers who know what should be done and are intuitive and creative enough to anticipate events that should take place on the set. The brain needs the aorta, arteries and veins. 

As a team of independent people willing to reach the same goal, we need to be connected almost organically. I respect people who are not afraid to cross their own boundaries and who never dismiss something as too complicated to be done. Deep down, within the frames of genuinely independent world, everything's possible. And that's the one and only rule that has to be obeyed within my group. We need to confront what is seemingly impossible. One needs to be like a pirate, always ready to sail out and sack the world.

What is it that you steal from the world to feed your imagination?

I adore real arthouse cinema - films with barely any action and a structure loose enough to border on dilettantism. What I find in them is quality and freedom. During my studies at the Theatre Academy I was introduced to the analytical approach towards script and plays and became used to working with meanings concealed in-between words and phrases.. Unfortunately, if we are talking about film analysis today, it is becoming increasingly superficial. Because of it, mainstream cinema becomes more and more literal, the stories that are told are usually plain, there's no room for illusions or doubt. That's the main reason for me to focus on arthouse and its charismatic authors that are always ready to drive viewers' into the abyss. 

What particular names do you have in mind?

Carlos Reygadas, Andrzej Żuławski, Grzegorz Królikiewicz, Harmony Korine, Gaspar Noe, Paul Thomas Anderson, Stanley Kubrick, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Werner Herzog, Jim Jarmusch, Bela Tarr, Lars von Trier and many others... I am keen on indomitable characters - captains always ready to reach the shore, never able to stop and turn back midway. 

At the base of any film is the script. How do you work with it, and on it?

I worked on Hardkor Disko's script with a co-writer. Robert Bolesto is seven years older than me, so the differences between our two generations were clear. I do not remember communist times in Poland too well; Robert is not up-to-date with teenage lifestyles. Yet, since I aspired to paint the picture of the psychophysical condition of young people, Robert became a great mirror to me. His experiences from youth inspired me. Moreover, at the basis of Hardkor Disko is the idea of this creation of a generational link between today's hardcore and our parents' nostalgic disco times. Therefore Robert and I were like complementary elements, we needed each other to write an authentic script. 

Yet, since you asked about my general approach to writing I need to add that I do like writing and I have considered myself a conscious writer since my twelfth birthday. I cannot say that I'm systematic, but from time to time I am totally able to focus. I remain inspired all the time since all the time I am at work. I watch movies, read books, visit exhibitions, write down sensations and thoughts. Then I take my time to think it all through. And I do not believe that we have already seen it all. There's still a lot to discover and fight for, especially in terms of form; and for me, the cinematic form is the first and foremost thing.

What were you fighting for while shooting your feature debut?

Hardkor Disko is an attempt to show a sort of universal, postmodern reality. The structure of classical tragedy inspired me most. Like Shakespeare's plays, classical tragedies carry the germs of transcendence and include collective and infinite emotions such as love, hatred, passion, death, guilt and punishment. However, while being inspired by classics, I am always looking for modern characters able to carry a modern story.

Which form is closer to your heart then - the black and white theater-like style visible in your music video for Kasia Nosowska's Nomad or Mister D.'s kitschy pop from your newest video starring Anja Rubik?

Definitely the opera-like nature of the Nomad video is closer to my inner aesthetic. What I am interested in is the overtness of certain methods of creation and, as Bruno Schulz put it, the deconstruction of the reality. I would like to expose our reality by unveiling all its staginess. I had this idea in mind while shooting the extended scene of breakfast  that Marcin has with Ola's [Jaśmina Polak] parents [Janusz Chabior and Agnieszka Wosińska] in Hardkor Disko. 

Everybody plays their roles in front of each other. They are fake characters making silly faces. By doing that they all simply show who they are not, or who they are willing to be. Even the language used in the film is rather artificial, unnatural. I wanted to capture the shallowness of human relationships. My film was supposed to be radical, uncomfortable for viewers, not easy to recognize and interpret. New art craves new forms. The old ones cannot carry new ideas. Therefore I want to cross structural borders and look for new audiovisual aids and means of communication.

Please describe the direction you're going while exploring new cinematic language.
I crave for playing with old and new forms. I want to test new cameras and devices that capture reality; I want to synthesize various techniques of filming. I would like to create collages that mirror my psyche. I want to multiply layers of images and reach the stage at which the pure, complete, simple form would appear. My goal is to find a carte blanche. After years of creative work it will have totally different meaning for the artist than in the beginning of his or her career. Even though I do collect existing images, I am interested most in what the future may bring.

I am much more interested in the past and those existing images of yours.

On the one hand I do like VHS, vinyl, sad songs and the scent of backstage. I am looking for places that are almost destroyed by time. I cherish the longing for splendor that died away. I am really nostalgic about our parents' times. Yet, on the other hand I am at odds with that past. During the last thirty years I've been soaking up art, so now comes the time to take it all out. I want to reconstruct the world and do it from scratch. It means that during the act of creation I need to inscribe elements of my own biography into the very foundations of the story I want to tell. 

Art is simply a projection of your emotions. Yet, according to Newton's third law of motion, the piece of art should give you something back. What do your films and clips project on you in return?

The dynamic nature of art is totally overwhelming. If you let it happen, the piece of art may eat you up. Yet, what's amazing is that since you cannot predict everything, the final product may be much better than the initial vision you had at the very beginning of the creative process. We know perfectly well that sometimes even a moment of inattention may be the driving force behind the piece of art. Even though you are willing to do anything to place the chaotic reality into clear structure, the chaos creeps out and asserts its existence. Honestly, the most interesting things often come out of those cracks...

What cracked in Hardkor Disko then?

Well, let's say that I have few theories about making movies. First of them evolved from Bruno Schulz's idea of poetry. He claims that poetry is like short blowouts of logic between lines. You have three words that follow each other: hay, rain, and orchard. What do you see?

I see colors. Yet, every single word that appears changes tone of the whole image. 

Exactly. So now you know how I edit my movies! I try to catch the aliquots - in music they stand for elements of the melody. In Hardkor Disko, when I present the Molotov Cocktail, the little dancing girl and the sexual intercourse one after another, I create a sequence that leads viewers into subconscious beats. Images polarize as much as words. I prefer to leave viewers with lots of doubt and surprising thoughts. Every interpretation depends on the viewer's own experience, his or her attention and courage to find their own path. I provide frames only, nothing less, nothing more. Yet, once you have them, you have the total freedom to wander around.
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Fantastic Fest 2014Hardkor DiscoKrysztof SkoniecznyKrzysztof SkoniecznyRobert BolestoMarcin KowalczykJasmina PolakAgnieszka WosinskaJanusz ChabiorDrama

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