Memories from Cannes: Agnieszka Holland

Marcin Zawiśliński interviews director Agnieszka Holland for the special issue of biweekly Viva! Polish Cinema at the 70th Cannes International Film Festival.

Marcin Zawiśliński: In Cannes in 1980, your feature debut Provincial Actors won the FIPRESCI Award.

Agnieszka Holland: That was my first and so far only film to be screened at the festival. For me, it was a fantastic, even sensual, experience. It was my second trip to the West, and my first to France, having been banned from leaving Poland for many years. I spent just 2 or 3 days in France and I remember my friends taking me on a scooter tour around Paris for many hours. I was a young director, and I didn’t fully realise the importance of this event or the award I received there.

After completing Fever, and after the imposition of martial law in Poland, you emigrated to Paris. It was closer to Cannes from there.

Well, I went there a few times. Twice with Krzysztof Kieślowski, with whom I had a great time. I also remember the festival in 1990, when Krystyna Janda received the acting award for her role as Antonina Dziwisz in Interrogation by Ryszard Bugajski. That’s when that famous photo was taken, the one where I am standing with Roman Polański, Andrzej Wajda, Andrzej Żuławski, Ryszard Bugajski and Krzysztof Kieślowski who I’ve just mentioned.

What are your feelings when you come here now?

On the one hand, this is the Mecca of ambitious cinema, but at the same time it’s a very specific place. Personally, I do not like watching movies in Cannes. However, I do appreciate the festival because the films that qualify for the main competition here are a guarantee of quality. I also believe that every filmmaker should attend at least once. I visit Cannes only if I have some business here, most recently as the head of the European Film Academy. It bores me slightly that it is a sort of boys club, that the line-up of directors is always predictable, but I admit that they are all, without exception, fantastic filmmakers. It’s a matter of regret that Polish films today have such little chance of appearing at the festival. There is no snobbery for them here yet. But I hope the time will soon come!

Is it about the level of those films, or rather the changing fashions that characterise the event?

It’s definitely a question of fashion for a certain type of cinema, and for certain cinematography. Fashion is extremely important in Cannes.

It is believed that the Golden Palm of Cannes is for European cinema, whereas the Oscars are for the American film industry.

Over the past 10-15 years, that situation has changed a little. An award at Cannes is no longer a guarantee of a film’s global success. And it’s similar with the Oscars. In recent years, the number of films at the big festivals representing so-called mainstream cinema has shrunk. I am talking about films which, while being artistic, personal and innovative, at the same time also appeal to a wider audience. Once, such films won the major prizes at Cannes, but today those often go to more elitist works. In the United States, the Oscars are also increasingly awarded to niche productions. And they do not translate into large takings from ticket sales. For some time, unfortunately, neither the Golden Palm nor the Oscars have been a guarantee that the winning movies will pull in large cinema audiences.