At A Glance
Director Malgorzata Szumowska holds a mirror up to her home country Poland, in the black comedy Mug. Claire Bueno interviews the filmmaker and her husband, lead actor Mateusz Kosciukiewicz when they were in the UK promoting their film.
Directed by Malgorzata Szumowska
Written by Michal Englert, Malgorzata Szumowska
Released by Bull Dog Distribution
2018, 91 minutes, 15
In UK Cinemas Friday 7th December
Mateusz Kosciukiewicz as Jacek
Agnieszka Podsiadlik as Jacek's sister
Malgorzata Gorol as Dagmara
Malgorzata Szumowska & Mateusz Kosciukiewicz
By Claire Bueno
Jacek (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz) plummets from a statue of Jesus Christ. The statue is still in the process of being built, which when finished it will out-rival Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer. Here we see the irony, as the good Lord must have gone to lunch when the accident occurs! Although his life is saved, the fall will result in Jacek being the first person in Poland to receive a face transplant.
Originally titled Twarz, this translates into English as face. Aptly named as Jacek, a heavy metal fan will have to face the music, as adjusting to life back in rural Poland will prove to him that beauty is only skin deep.
The obvious question for me was to enquire as to the genesis of the film, and the social commentary they are trying to make?
“The genesis of the film was like the story of the accident, and of the surgery that really happened four years ago in Poland. It was an inspiration for me and the co-writer (Michal Englert), we found it very metaphorical like, someone who is losing his face and has a new face,” says Malgorzata Szumowska.
The film focuses on identity: “Identity is something very Polish, we struggle with our identity, all our history. Then, you know we found it a good reference for the Polish history, so like losing a face etc., etc. and like we lost our old country and these things, many times, but what we wanted to do was an absurd black comedy.”
Mug purposely anchored itself in fantasy, as opposed to telling the story of the actual event.
“We kinda wanted to do a metaphor of Polish society in this moment now, but not in the big city, it is important that it is taking place in the deep, deep, deep village, province.”
And without a doubt Mug does not shy away from provincial ignorance, as we witness the young man ostracized within the God fearing community for being different.
“Of course, because their religion, Catholic religion in deep Polish province I would say,” comments Szumowska.
“Not only,” Mateusz Kosciukiewicz adds.
“Not only. It is a total kind of hypocrisy. People, they love habits, they love rituals because that is a part of their life, their life of the grandmothers, their grandfathers, and that’s the part of theirs,” continues the director.
The actor states: “tradition.”
“Their tradition, people love tradition in Poland, people really hate what is untraditional. People feel very safe if they’ve got all of these rituals, but on a deep level I don’t think they really understand, if they really want to understand what Christianity means on a deep level.”
On a more micro level after his accident we also witness a big shift in the family dynamic, and their reaction to Jacek. In his sister we see the true definition of unconditional love, executed skilfully by Agnieszka Podsiadlik.
“She is amazing,” says Szumowska.
Kosciukiewicz picks up: “she is the only one who love him, erm honestly, beside of everything you know just pure love to brother.” He continues: “to his freedom, to his opportunity to be free.”
And to the character of Jacek, the accidental hero, full of irreverence with a happy go lucky nature.
“A lot of people think an accident could change your mentality, but it not happen, it not happen in one (month), or even two, or a year or two. Err before and after accident people are the same, maybe they have some trauma or something like this, and worry of something or some medical issue, but we are the same person still, even if the people treat you a different way. As you said, only sister treat him the same, the same way as before,” says the actor.
I wondered whether they had researched other victims who had suffered a facial disfigurement.
“I met the guy, the real guy and err I met him, the first meeting was only me with him and the writer. And then we were about to decide if he should meet Mateusz, and we decide not because somehow we wanted to make a fantasy,” says the director.
It took four hours to apply the mask and makeup. The time invested pays off as the disfigurement does look incredibly authentic, which made me curious to know whether Mateusz’s perception to the character changed after the transformation?
“It makes a huge difference you know, it is the base of this profession, people looking at you and they judge you, and when you have a mask they don’t see your real face, they don’t see your real emotion, they cannot judge your acting because your hide (hiding) and in the same way you are very deeply alone with this, nobody see, nobody hear.”
Of the Jury Grand Prix award winner at the Berlin International Film Festival, Malgorzata Szumowska spoke of the fantasy element of the film which is visually emphasized through the cinematography.
“Yes the whole idea was to use that kind of fairy tale touch in cinemography, something which is not realistic or a realistic touch; a fantasy touch. And that is why they used those lenses which are also deformed reality, there is a kind of deformation, you see the world from deformed eyes at a certain point, but also this world is a deformed world. Yeah, but also if you can imagine, if we shot this film without this effect, I think it is a vulgar story.”
“These lenses are created in a way that audience is forced somehow, only one place is focused when we are choosing wherever the people should (look).”
Mug is a quirky film that does focus your attention on the importance of acceptance and tolerance. Mateusz Kosciukiewicz subtle, nuanced performance will not fail to evoke emotion in this modern day Elephant Manesque tale.