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18 Jun 2022

Director Jan P. Matuszyński about the movie Leave no traces

We talked to director Jan P. Matuszyński about his latest film, ”Leave no traces”, which will be screened in his presence tonight, June 18 at 9PM at Florin Piersic Cinema, how he chose the actor for the leading role, visual influences, but also how the film was received in Poland.

How did you come across this subject and what convinced you that it was appropriate to turn it into a fiction feature?

I was looking for a topic, a theme for my next film and my producer Aneta Cebula-Hickinbotham gave me this book of reports written by Caesar Lazarewicz, Leave no traces. I knew the name, I knew something about the case, but not a lot of details. Anyway, when I started reading it, I knew it was something I needed to film, because it talks about a scary and exciting case that, although it happened almost 40 years ago, feels like it actually happened yesterday.

The film also follows many important characters and covers only a part of the many events that took place during that period. Have you ever thought about turning Leave no traces into a miniseries, considering the recent success of the format, including in Poland with Netflix?

At first, in 2017, we had a short conversation about it, but both me and my producer thought it was too important a topic to talk about a miniseries. I knew there were a lot of things to cover, being a story with many layers, with even more characters, but I had a feeling that it had to be a movie. Not a short one, not an easy one, but a movie. At the end of the assembly process, I realized that we left out over an hour of material that we would have liked to include, and then this idea came up again, that maybe it should eventually be turned into a mini-series, but no one was that interested in it.

All the actors in the film do impressive roles, but I was curious how you discovered Tomasz Ziętek. What convinced you that he was the right choice for the role of Jurek, who can be considered the main character?

I've seen him in a few Polish films and I knew he was someone I would want to work with one day. When we started thinking of this story as a movie, it was pretty clear that we had to pick a young actor, and he was first on the list of people I wanted to meet for the role. I knew he was a good actor, but I wasn't so sure he matched Jacek Braciak, who played his father. Because that was the most important thing, first of all, to orchestrate all the characters, to make them work as a family, not to have a member that stands out. Immediately after, we had a fairly short rehearsal with him, Jacek and Agnieszka Grochowska (Jurek's mother in the film), and after those two, three hours it was pretty clear that they fit and that they are credible together.

What were your main influences when it comes to the visual style of the film?

I didn't want to make any references to any Polish film. I would say that I was influenced rather by the American cinema of the ’70, by the films from Hollywood. I would definitely call The conversation (dir. Francis Ford Coppola), All the President’s Men (dir. Alan J.. Pakula) and The French Connection (r. William Friedkin), all these movies that focused on the atmosphere of fear, insecurity, oppression. I used the same lenses that these movies used, that kind of thing. And in the end, I think it worked, because the feeling of the genre is there. We played with him especially in the last act of the story, which should not work as it is, being a drama in essence, but somehow turned upside down. There is also a scene in which the ambulance driver is forced to take the blame and admit the crime. When we shot that scene, we had Steven McQueen's hunger in mind, for example. I can name a lot of titles that influenced me because I saw a lot of movies at that time.

Risking to simplify the movie, Leave no traces is a movie about authorities who are beyond their power and are positioned above the law. How was the film received by Polish audiences, given that, as you said, it is not a subject of the past?

The film was very well received in Poland, but I had the feeling that the audience expected something else from this film. Which I think is a good thing, after all, if you're surprised with what you see on the screen.

I expected there would be more political discussions around the film, and there were a few, but nothing too big. Or maybe they were, but they didn't get to me. And I think that was also because of the pandemic, among other things, because we wanted to have as many spectators as possible and we released the film in theaters last September, when people started to go back to the cinema in greater numbers.

And after those two years you expect the audience to go faster to the last James Bond than to Leave no traces, which is not the most fun movie. I think this is some kind of entertainment, too.

Interview written by Laurențiu Paraschiv