Auteur Zanussi looks back at film school in amusement

At a BIFFes session, he recalls how he was ‘kicked out’ of Poland’s only institute for film studies then for deploying the irreverent style he had picked up from the French masters.
Last Updated 01 March 2019, 06:56 IST

The BIFFes session with jury chairman and eminent filmmaker Kristof Zanussi led to great insights and some embarrassment.

Speaking to moderator M K Raghavendra, well-known film critic, and an audience that included such luminaries of Indian cinema as Girish Kasaravalli and Sunny Joseph, Zanussi spoke not only about his masterly oeuvre but also about his collaboration with legendary figures in world cinema: Andrej Wazda and Krzysztof Kieslowski.

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A young Zanussi at work.

Zanussi, 79, started his address on a humorous note, saying, “I am someone who is seen as representing Poland, but it would be more precise to say that I am representing Jurassic Park. Because I am a dinosaur.”

Filmmaking was not what Zanussi first chose as his vocation. He wanted to be a physicist, but in the four years he spent getting a degree, he realised he was “not going to win the Nobel prize.”

“And I did not want to be a mediocre physicist,” he said.

He went on to join the only film school in Poland then, but things didn’t go too well there either.

Zanussi wasn’t going back from Paris empty-handed. This was the time of the New Wave, the French filmmaking movement that upturned classical notions of how films are to be made, and Zanussi returned to his film school to deploy all the irreverent methods that greats like Godard and Francois Truffaut were using in Paris.

But that wasn’t appreciated. The innovations of the New Wave hadn’t reached the school in Poland and the faculty threw him out when they saw the “amateur” films he was making now.

But they eventually took him back in, and he went on to make his acclaimed diploma film.

He screened parts of the diploma film for the audience at BIFFes and it was easy to see the eye for detail and characterisation that would be fully used in his later films.

The veteran, who was the one to discover Christoph Waltz (he also said “it was Quentin Tarantino would make him famous”), is not impressed with the films of the day. “You shouldn’t care about Netflix. That is not good cinema, that’s just mass production,” he replied to a question from DH.

Zanussi said the quality of cinema today is much lower than it was 30 years ago. Talking about a time before the digital era when people “did not even know what their own voice sounded like”, he said filmmakers like Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky produced films that were more in sync with the nature of the medium.

This session, however, had one embarrassing moment for everyone. During a conversation between Raghavendra and Zanussi on how films in countries like Romania, Hungary and Russia respond to their earlier dictatorships, a member of the audience interrupted them, saying: “Sir, we are more interested in watching the films. If you can please keep your politics out of this.... Moderators should learn to moderate themselves.”

Raghavendra repeated the sentence “moderators should learn to moderate themselves” loudly and laughed it off, while Zanussi appeared a bit taken aback and said, “I suppose you’d all want to go home a little early”.

Coffee in Paris with ‘stingy’ Godard

During Zanussi’s time off from film school in Poland, he made a trip to Paris.

“You will find it hard to believe it today, but you could not convert money at that time. So, if I was going to interview famous filmmakers like Jean Luc Godard over a coffee, my issue was who would foot the bill? Can I ask Godard to pay the bill, knowing that he is famously stingy? If I paid, I would have to skip my lunch,” he

(Published 28 February 2019, 12:56 IST)

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