“The Love Equation of Henry Fast” by Agnieszka Elbanowska is one of the Polish representatives at the 56th DOK.Leipzig Festival. The film is going to be presented in the non-competitive International Documentary Programme and it’s going to be its’ international premiere. Here’s the interview with Agnieszka Elbanowska.

Daniel Stopa: I’ve heard you’d known your protagonist before. How did you meet? When exactly did you decide to make a film about him?

Agnieszka Elbanowska: I’ve met Henry for the first time at one of the cultural events in Warsaw. He was reciting his erotic limerick on the sidelines. One doesn’t forget people like him. Two years later, I was taking part in the DOK PRO documentary programme at Wajda School. My task was to shoot an etude on the theme of love. Instantly, I thought of Henry. Before I got in touch with him, I was already convinced that I’d like to talk about love by showing its’ absence, about love through solitude. It appeared thought, that Henry was happily in love and was sharing his life with a thirty-year-old woman. Me and Paweł Nadolny (director of photography) we both felt uneasy. We were in fact coming with a camera into a life of a total stranger and we didn’t know how much can we interfere or whether we should judge it at all based on our standards of what is right, honest and safe.

The etude about love without love didn’t work out, so you had to shoot a film about a man happily in love?

Not exactly, since we let the present be and we showed the situation already from the past, back when Henry was still looking for love in the Internet, putting a matrimonial ad there. We also became friends with him very soon. When the relationship with his young life companion got complicated, he asked us for help. And again, we felt uneasy and not because we found ourselves in the middle of a love and financial puzzle with a criminal touch, but because of the words Henry used to turn to us. When everything started to fall apart, when he realized that he’d lost his money, he told us we were closer to him than his own children. For a few very intense days we’d been living convinced, that together with Henry we were stuck in a Greek tragedy, from which there was no way out, but there was a happy end to all of this. The fraud was sent away, we got the money back. And that’s all thanks to a brave participant of the Warsaw Uprising, but that’s a very long story…

For more than one film, I’m sure. You’ve mentioned that you became good friends with the protagonist. In one of the interviews, you refer to the work of Jacek Bławut. Is creating a close, human bond with the protagonist important for your work?

It’s the most important. When there’s a close bond, mutual trust, an attempt to empathize, I’m no longer talking about the outside world, the world existing next to me, but about the world which I’m a part of, that I’m emotionally connected with. Of course, the attitude towards the protagonist is a very individual thing and I’m sure there are filmmakers, who have a completely different one. I referred to Jacek Bławut, because when I was watching his films and studying the making of them I realized, that his sensitivity is very close to mine. As well as Leszek Ciechoński, with whom I had the opportunity to work with and who’s taught me a lot, he is also completely absorbed by the world of his characters and their story.

A close relationship with the protagonist is followed, I guess, by quite a big and special responsibility?

We’re always responsible for the protagonist, no matter what kind of relationship we have with him. In my film’s case, there were people saying it’s on the verge of ridiculing the protagonist. But why didn’t I cross that line? Because Henry did it himself first, very consciously by playing with the form. In one of the scenes we see a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa with the face of… Henry Fast. In the erotic short story the character’s masculinity is threatened in a surprising way and it’s premeditated, the author’s auto ironic reference to his own health problems. On the other hand, in his limerick “Rano przy goleniu” [“In the morning, while shaving”] Henry puts himself in a pretty arrogant way above any criticism.

As to the protagonist’s awareness, we have the impression that he perfectly knows that he can be abused by others. And even though he got burned once, he probably won’t ever stop looking for love?

To a similar question, Henry answered: ‘One learns very little from mistakes, as said by a certain paratrooper’. Although he prefers to call himself a Don Juan, for me, maybe he’ll forgive me that, he’s rather a Don Quixote of love. He can lose everything, but not the hope to realize his dreams. What more can you want? To make them true? Maybe the unfulfilled dreams look better? Maybe they are less harmful?

Less harmful, although Henry’s chase after his dreams also brings pain. The final conversation with the protagonist’s daughter changes the film’s tone. Suddenly, we see him with different eyes, the eyes hiding grievance. Was the decision of putting this scene in the film difficult?

The shooting of it, that was a difficult moment. I took it very personally and I needed time to distance myself from it, to give these people back their basic right to their own opinion. Many courageous words were said in the film, there’s talk about sex, about buying love, there are some erotic drawings which lead us step by step to the surprising culmination. But we reach the most intimate moment in the last scene. There is no eroticism in it, which can really be just one of the many masks. However, there is the most personal truth, that we can touch. Maybe because there is no form left, there are real emotions. I was aware, that the moment we were allowed to witness this conversation, our responsibility was even greater. I knew that this is absolutely the key scene, that has to close the whole story, but at the same time I was afraid I’d make a final shaped like the judgement day and put the protagonist in a role of the accused. I think we’ve managed to avoid that and the ending brings absolution, unconditional acceptance and commitment.

This final scene, apart from a family settlement and clearance, also gives us hope, that something will change between the characters. How do the protagonist’s relations with his family look these days, what happened next to him? If Henry is so inspirational, weren’t there any ideas to continue the story?

Something changed in the family relations, as Henry contacted one of his two daughters, whom he hasn’t been in touch with for a long time. He was even planning to go to her wedding. Of course, at that point there was an idea to shoot the second part, but for now the subject has blown over. We’ve celebrated his birthday recently. Now we’re waiting for his next book, after the erotic limericks it’s time for short stories. He’s not suffering from the lack of ideas, because, as he said himself, Henry Fast is inexhaustive.

Thank you for the conversation.

Thank you.