We rarely talk about intimate things, but the more we talk about it, the easier it gets to… confess our emotions. It sounds as if they were some kind of crime. Love is a hard word to say out loud" - Krzysztof Gierat talks with Paweł Łoziński about his latest film" You Have No Idea How Much I Love You". Its international premiere soon at IDFA.

Krzysztof Gierat: I have a proposition: let’s talk about this film openly, with full disclosure. We’ll just put a warning at the beginning: ‘Warning, this conversation reveals the secret on which the film is built!’

Paweł Łoziński: I cannot agree to this, the method of production is completely secondary.

But not when you are filming your protagonists during their therapy sessions… I’m very interested in the behind the scenes of this project, because it resulted in an outstanding and innovative film. But since this is the case, let’s leave the secret to the audience and start in a banal way.

No, let’s be original, I will ask you a question instead. What is this film to you?

To me? It’s a conversation between two sensitive women about the most important, most essential things in life, moderated by an exceptional therapist that is professor de Barbaro, who acts here as a confidant, a confessor, and a director of this spectacle.

And what are those most important things?

Communication with another person, love…

Look how difficult it is to say this out loud; we rarely talk about intimate things, but the more we talk about it, the easier it gets to… confess our emotions. It sounds as if they were some kind of crime. Love is a hard word to say out loud.

The same applies to saying ‘I love you, son’ or ‘I love you, dad’, if I may bring up your and your father’s previous project. Only in therapy one may reach the edge without falling off the cliff.

If I were the one asking these questions, it would be intrusive of me as well as unethical; but when a renowned psychotherapist does this for me, he knows how not to hurt the protagonists.

Did you and Marcel hurt yourselves with your double documentary about your trip to Paris?

Indeed, this trip with my father was the result of us naively thinking that we could deal with our issues on our own, a self‑therapy of sorts. We thought that we were self‑sufficient and didn’t need anyone’s help. And it ended how it ended. We made two versions of the film, and we didn’t speak to each other for several years. Fortunately, things are better now, so it wasn’t all for nothing. But I really wanted to see if there was some way of communicating that would lead to true reconciliation and not only reopeningold wound. Hence the film about psychotherapy.

Initially, it wasn’t supposed to be about a mother and a daughter.

It was supposed to be about divorce counselling; about two deeply conflicted people who are getting a divorce and seek counselling for the good of the children, to somehow reconcile or at least reach some kind of understanding. Incredibly difficult. I wanted to see what were the tools used by the counsellor, and how this could be filmed. And I wanted to do this without interference, to just put there a camera and start filming, but people were reluctant. This forced us to come up with a certain solution that allowed us to put a camera in a therapist’s office without compromising the ethical aspects of therapy.

Once you found this mysterious solution, you had to find a psychotherapist and his clients.

Many clients.

You usually look for your protagonists around you, among people close to you. I assume that professor de Barbaro was a stranger to you.

A complete stranger.

What about the protagonists?

At first, we put an ad on Facebook saying that we were looking for people who would be willing to participate in this film experiment that would consist in recording their therapeutic sessions. We also stated the conditions that would protect the welfare and the image of the protagonists. A lot of people answered. For the first time in my life I was doing castings for dozens of people, even a hundred of people for a documentary. We would meet in a café, just like we’re doing right now…

So you didn’t look in psychotherapy centres?

Not at all. I was still interested in the subject of divorce, families breaking apart, then there were alcohol problems, illness or death in the family, adultery, sometimes parents finding out that their child was homosexual and being unable to deal with that. I wanted to make a catalogue of our problems and worries nowadays, and to give my protagonists one session in front of the camera that would open their mind to the possibility that they could receive help through psychotherapy. All this in the form of a film experiment. From this abundance of volunteers we picked out over twenty couples that agreed to this joint film therapy. We recorded a lot of interesting sessions with different emotional intensity. Some were deeply moving and teary, others were funny, for instance husband and wife arguing like a typical Italian married couple. All the while, the editor Dorota Waręszkiewicz and I were looking at different themes and trying to find a way to combine them into one film. But after the first mother and daughter’s session we decided to continue, because they went very deep into the therapeutic process. With much regret I rejected the rest of the otherwise very interesting material.

But you still have it?

I do.

So you’ll go back to it at some point.

I don’t know, maybe I will make a documentary series about psychotherapy. For now we decided to focus on this one couple.

Those were still screen tests, or were you already working full throttle?

We were already filming. Kacper Lisowski was shooting, we had three cameras, and I was also behind one of them.

The film was shot in a manner very similar to your "Chemo", being incredibly close to the protagonists: there are practically no shots with all three, only a number of panoramic takes from one character to another, but generally speaking we get total close‑ups, a lot of detail…

Frontal shots.

But how did you do it?  

We were shooting with extremely small Blackmagic Pocket cameras with very long lenses, like when hunting birds, so we were standing let’s say four and a half metres from the patients.

So to some extent you became invisible.

We were trying to be discrete, but it’s hard with film lights illuminating the whole room; Kacper was very precise in the placement of lights, so that it would be clear that it was the same situation, the same room. But we also wanted for the image to look natural and to also get some natural light coming in through the window.

You were also consistent in the way that you filmed de Barbaro. The camera was turned slightly upwards and at an angle, which gives an impression that he is inclining over us, as if we were also participating in this therapy. I’ve never attended any kind of therapy, but I would be willing to do it with him. There are a lot of recordings of him online, but he never looks as hypnotic as in your film.

Kacper illuminated him brilliantly, but he’s also a very photogenic person, the camera likes him. And it’s true that he was filmed from a lower perspective than the others. We wanted to obtain naked faces like in Bergman films; we also experimented with profile shots, but then a lot can be hidden. One can turn away from the camera, or make a face that’s only visible on the hidden side. While with frontal shots, just like we’re sitting right now, one cannot hide anything, even the slightest twitch is visible.

Were you editing as you filmed?

Absolutely. You were very right to say that de Barbaro was directing the sessions. For the fist time I had all the shots completely in chronological order: we filmed sessions in order, from the first to the fifth, but we also kept the order of what was said in each session. We only removed the unnecessary fragments, because a real session lasts fifty minutes. The professor directed each session rigorously, and in a way he was also the one who set the film’s pace.

So there were no commands: ‘cut’, ‘repeat’? There was no interference with the sessions?

It’s the most documentary of all my films, I didn’t want to do any cuts or retakes. The cameras were filming the entire time; we were all part of some magical process. 

You were simply observing what was happening in front of the camera, and trying to find the essence of therapy, but not in order to show how it looks like, but what it can lead to.

I find de Barbaro’s methods extremely fascinating. He is a constructionist: he believes that words create reality, that how you name something determines what it becomes. His method is extraordinary: it consists in listening to his patients’ words describing their emotions and sometimes suggesting to change those words that are too strong or categorical, because they can be too hurtful for another person.

It’s very easy to imagine what would happen if he weren’t there, if this conversation was taking place only between the two women.

After all, they were having these conversations for years, and it didn’t do them any good. They were going in circles. But de Barbaro helped them to break this emotional vicious cycle, as he calls it. The mother feels guilty because of the situation in the family, she offers the kind of love that she knows, but the daughter refuses to accept it, so she gets angry and communicates this anger to her daughter, which leads to conflict, then once again she feels guilty and drowns the daughter with her love. A true perpetuum mobile

Your film shows how very difficult it is for us – people who often read the same books, watch the same films – to communicate. How easily we hurt one another, how even the most simple words can be misunderstood, how much good will is necessary for two people to communicate. And what about larger communities? Is individual or group therap  the only solution for a person nowadays?

Psychotherapy, this kind of communication, is not for everyone. It’s not a key that opens all doors.

But did your film therapy work?

The protagonists certainly made a small step. This film is a dramatic construct. It’s five sessions compressed into one. Five sessions is like driving a shovel into a tip of an iceberg. Still, I’m impressed with the way in which de Barbaro wields this shovel and opens them up to communication. It was important for me to leave things open. At the end, the professor tells them: ‘Maybe you shouldn’t yet cook that dinner together? Maybe you should let this umbilical cord scar heal.’ The film needs to have a dramatic structure, it needs closure, but with a ray of hope. The way they act towards each other at the end is completely different than what we see at the beginning. They learned a few words that will allow them to talk to each other using a new language.

You made a very simple, ascetic film…

Yes, it could hardly be any simpler: they don’t come in, they don’t leave the room, they sit, nothing happens except for what
goes on inside their heads.

But everyone can find in this story some reflection of his or her own traumas.

Perhaps not everyone. There are some who say: ‘What purpose does this serve? I’m not interested in this kind of talk.’ There are people who don’t ask themselves fundamental questions, because it’s more convenient this way, and it’s their right. This film is for those who have the willingness to – in de Barbaro’s words – put question marks next to some of their life choices…

… to search, to open up.

Yes, to search and to open up.

Source: "Focus on Poland" Magazine 4 (2/2016)