"Komodo Dragons" - the film debut of Michał Borczuch is a hybrid of documentary observation, spontaneous improvisations and fiction which awakens extreme emotions. Film will have its international prmiere at Doclisboa International Documentary Film Festival in Portugal. Barbara Rusinek talked to the film's director about a different perception of the world.

"I know that everything that we do is good, but I just don't understand why," these are the words of Agata, the mother of Franek from the film. For many years, you have been very successful in the theatre, why did you make this film?

In spite of working in the theatre, I have always wanted to make a film. These two media have some things in common, however, on the implementation level and in terms of their message, they turn into something completely different. Making "Komodo Dragons," I wanted to combine two topics by which I was totally absorbed at that time. On the one hand, I wanted to show you a different perspective on the reality, which I experienced during my co-operation with a group of autistic people on the Life Farm near Krakow. We worked together on a performance in Łaźnia Nowa Theater. On the other hand, I wanted to create a story which would constitute some kind of a parable about parents who want to sacrifice their own child for some unspecified reasons. The film was made because I needed to contrast these two threads: the documentary observations of the Farm with the fictional parable, which is an attempt to ask a certain philosophical question.

Why did you decide to contrast these two motifs?

For me, in the motif of human sacrifice, there is some kind of a mystery. If it is taken away from the religious context, in which it appears most often, we start to think about some kind of social pathology or a reality which is shifted in comparison to the norm, social or moral one.  Working with autistic people, which I experienced, did not consist in examining the problem from medical point of view, but it was rather an attempt to get closer to their totally different way of perceiving the world. The logic how autistic people function is shifted. This is why it seemed to me that contrasting these two worlds would be something which will complement each other. I had the impression that thanks to such a confrontation, the motif of human sacrifice will not be debated in terms of religion or pathology, but rather as a kind of philosophical reflection.

Watching this film, I had the impression that also in the plot of the boys from Farm Life there is the subject matter which is difficult or almost impossible to understand, namely the issue of a pathological relationship between parents and child. In one of the scenes, the caretaker from the Farm tells a boy that his parents rejected him, that they do not care about him at all.

This is also a good interpretation. I am not a parent myself, but among my family and friends I can observe the parent-and-child relationship. The story goes that there is such a thing as the parental instinct, something that transcends the categories of logic and intellect. In the case of the parents of autistic children and the autistic people functioning on some kind of a social margin, it seems to me that this instinctive relationship is upset, disturbed. I am not able to say why. Maybe it is because the disorder and the afflicted people are often eliminated from the social life, invisible, at least in Polish reality. Actually, these two stories come together on the level of rejecting something, functioning outside the norm.

In the film, there are several conversations between the autistic people, which are totally improvised, they have a documentary characteristics. When I was watching these materials in the editing room, I noticed that there is some kind of internal logic in the conversations of autistic people, but healthy people have no access to it. I wanted to make sure that the viewer does not have an easy access to the decision of Franek and Agata, the parents who decide to sacrifice their son for some reasons known only to them. I wanted to leave the issue of killing one's own child an understatement, on the mythical level.

You are talking about mystery, impossibility of understanding. And how did the co-operation between you and the actors with the boys from the Farm look like?

Thanks to the fact that we worked together on a play 2 years before and we managed to get acquainted before the shooting started, we had a common ground.  We did not need time to get acquainted and to accelerate to work together. Thanks to the trust which we built previously, we managed to engage in this new situation very quickly and easily. The actors and the autistic people could concentrate primarily on their attempts to find a common subject matter in their improvisations. The situation on the set was sometimes difficult because the actors had the feeling that by following the intuition and associations imposed by the story of human sacrifice, their improvisations would enter quite dangerous spheres, touching upon the privacy and emotions of the autistic people. Several of these scenes are included in the film, but these were difficult moments. For me and the actors it was easy to accept the convention of the plot, whereas it was much more difficult for autistic people. If there was a problem in our co-operation, it was in the question, to what extent are we able to tell the autistic people what our film was about. All the more so because "Komodo Dragons" was supposed to have a lot of space for documentary enquiries.

What questions did the autistic people presented in the film ask you?

They were interested in the relationship between the main protagonists. Their questions were very specific, e.g. why and how long Franek and Agata are together, where do they work, how do they live. They wanted to get acquainted with the protagonists' world and I think they were excited by the fact that they participated in creating a fictional story. None of them asked about the meaning of and the reason for the sacrifice which made me very happy, because I did not want to concentrate on the reason behind this act, but rather on the act itself.

In the film, there is a scene of therapeutic workshops, which look as if they were acted by the boys, as if they were their own performance. Was it a staging made only for the film, or do therapies of this kind take place on the Farm?

This scene had a fairly simple premise. The autistic people got the basic information about the relationships of the fictional characters: Feliks, Franek and Agata. Filled with this information, the boys started their improvisation - they re-enacted the therapy which takes place on the Farm. The therapy presented in the film was conventional from the very beginning, because no therapist or caretaker participated in it.  By improvising the scene of therapy, in which they are joined by the actors, the boys started to put a layer of the behaviour they know from their own reality on the fictional story. That is why one of the autistic people takes up the role of the therapist himself, which came completely naturally and unintentionally. Their emotions started to circulate around the plot and the characters, to whom they were introduced earlier. The boys entered the world of fiction, at the same time mixing it with reality, which can be heard in the film, when one of them addresses the actor with his own name and then with the name of the character he plays. For an autistic person, the boundary between theatre or cinema and the reality is difficult to capture, the boys played the therapy and were present in it at the same time. The scene of therapy was about an hour long, during this scene, a caretaker from the Farm was present, who later made us aware how many things from the real therapy the boys transferred to their improvisation.

After making the film, or earlier the play with the autistic people, did their caretakers tell you how these experiences influenced the boys?

The film's protagonists have not seen the film yet, we have an appointment to watch it together and talk about it afterwards. I think that only in such a situation the caretakers would express their opinions. After the play on which we worked before, me and my team were told by the therapists that we did a great, useful job. For me it means that even though by involving the autistic people in a play or a film, I come close to the boundary of their intimacy and awake strong emotions, this is valuable to them. Treating them seriously and involving them in a world which is new to them, also gave them space which they did not have before. The caretakers stated that this experience did not only give the boys a lot of pleasure, but it also gave them a sense of freedom, which they did not have the opportunity to experience in such a form before.

You have already had an opportunity to talk about the film with the viewers who were not involved in this project. What were their comments and reflections?

I received different opinions. I heard that my film is funny, but also that it problematises the subject matter of the relationship between parents and children and opens a disturbing metaphysical space.  Some viewers feel lost because of the film's hybrid form, mixing the staging, documentary and feature scenes makes it difficult for them to interpret it. Other viewers understand this film exactly as it was intended to and for them, the lack of linear plot is not an obstacle. I am aware that "Komodo Dragons" is a difficult film, because it is devoid of elements to which the viewers are accustomed, many things are not sketched in, not explained by the film, but such was the premise behind it. In the film, as well as in the theatre, I am interested in introducing certain subjects and worlds, but not in putting forward a statement. Always, as a director and as a viewer, I value the freedom of perception and the pleasure of immersing myself in something which is not unambiguous.

Why the title "Komodo Dragons"? Where did the idea for such a title come from?

The idea appeared during the editing, which for me was a very important stage of making this film. Initially, I planned a different title, but I would not like to create more confusion and reveal what title it was. In the editing room, where me and Beata Walentowska worked together on the final shape of the film, we noticed the Komodo dragons in one of the improvisations, in which the little Franek and Kamil, a boy from the Farm, talk about animals, among others, about Komodo dragons. Both I and Beata came to the conclusion that it would be an ideal title, the most fitting one considering the form of the film. I mean the film's hybrid nature, as well as the space of instincts which it touches upon. For me, the title "Komodo Dragons" describes all the protagonists of this film.