“A VISIT” BY MATEJ BOBRIK AT IDFA – INTERVIEW WITH THE DIRECTOR
"A Visit" by Matej Bobrik will have its international premiere at the 26th edition of IDFA film festival which starts on November 20th. "A Visit" will be screened in the Reflecting Images: Panorama section and will compete for the IDFA Audience Award. We invite you to read the interview with the author.
Daniel Stopa: Where does the idea of "A Visit" come from?
Matej Bobrik: I was looking for a suitable location to shoot a completely different film and I came across a social care home in Podlasie region. My attention was caught by Mr Lutek who was walking all the time from the gate to the door, as if he was waiting for someone. He was doing that for a whole day, from dawn to dusk, not only during visiting hours. Then I was told by the director of the institution that Mr Lutek has no one to wait for, because he has no family. That story moved me and has prompted me to take a closer look at the residents of the social care home. It quickly became clear that the story hidden in that place was closer to me than I imagined and that it was also quite close to the topic of my previous film.
In the previous film, "Self (less) - Portrait", we can see your grandmother complaining that you don’t visit her too often. In “A Visit" lonely residents of the social care home are waiting for their loved ones. Is it this the element that connects the two films?
Yes. The subject of "waiting" is very close to me. Only in the editing room, I realized that in some ways I talk about my relationship with my grandmother. She lives in Slovakia, I live in Poland. When I was studying at the Lodz Film School, my grandmother would all the time wait for the moment when I finish studies and come back home to take care of her. My studies are over, but the profession is still holding me in Poland. I think that the choice of this topic hasn’t been accidental. There was a need to talk about something personal in my subconscious...
How fast did the social care home residents start trusting you?
First of all, the director of the nursing home, Mr Jerzy Iwaniuk, bestowed a rather high degree of trust in me and let me feel completely at ease at the premises. I'm very grateful for that, as I could document the institution without any limitations and spend enough time with the residents, both before the shoot, as well as in the course of it. In the beginning, our contact was mainly about the fact that I had cigarettes, but slowly our relationship was becoming deeper, not only based on 'buying' the tobacco. It appeared that I needed them for the film and they needed me and the cinematographer for entertainment. They were very eager to shoot, at times it was practically impossible to shoot an observational scene, because their desire to play in front of the camera and to play with the situation was incredible. We were even shooting purely fictional scenes, which we didn't need for the film, but for them it made their day interesting.
When watching "A Visit", one can get the impression that the director and the cinematographer are from "outside" of the filmed reality, that they are just observing it. From what you are saying it seems like you became really close to the social care home residents ...
The place itself and its residents quickly became more than just a film subject for me and Artur Sienicki (DOP). Far from the hustle and bustle of the city, surrounded by forests, wildlife and people who live according to completely different values, we felt completely free and we had a chance to learn a lot. The fact that we not only took from them, but we were also able to give them something, was very important for us. These are the moments when you feel that it’s worth to make films.
Not a word is spoken in the film but my guess is that the social care home residents could tell you a lot of stories…
And they did, because we talked practically about everything. I was interested in their life stories and I was asking them them where they come from, if they left their families behind, etc. It turned out that there is plenty of people like Mr. Lutek, who are still waiting for their family to visit. Telling their stories by using their own words and statements would be very painful and too personal for them. I felt that I had no right to do it. So I had to find a much more subtle way to tell about the whole pain that they carry inside.
You have decided to create a film in which the most important things, that is, the emotions and the meaning, reach the viewers primarily through the images. This kind of films requires a lot of work in the editing room. How did the editing looked like in case of "A Visit”? Which of the production stages was the most difficult?
We had a lot of work especially at the sound recording stage, because we were shooting without sound operator. During the post-production we had to build the world from scratch. Ola Mikołajczyk (sound) has done a tremendous job and thanks to her sensitive viewers can fully immerse themselves in the world of the social care home. Grzegorz Szczepaniak (editor) has also worked with me for a long time to assemble the final eleven minutes. Sometimes we would cut a take by just one second and we would wait a few days before we watched the little change we made because the meaning of the film did not depend on words but on the emotions that we felt watching it. We also did such tests among people who were not involved with the film. Their main objection was that the film lacked the verbal layer, that there was no dialogue with the protagonists. It turned out that a story without words is illegible, that it doesn’t reach the viewers. I think it is related to the form of the film. Not everyone is prepared for it because the access to this kind of films is quite difficult. Who may be interested in a short documentary about old, lonely people, where no one talks? Before we finished the film, I knew that the general public won’t like it. It is a pity, because I have a dream to make a film that will satisfy me on one hand, but that I could also show to my friends from outside the film world with whom I just meet for a beer on the other. I think that so far I did not succeed, but it may as well be a good thing, because I still have the motivation to keep doing what I'm doing.
Thank you very much for the conversation.