Known as one of the most promising, but also controversial, young directors in Poland, Michał Borczuch continues to create and direct highly original new works in film and theatre that challenge conventions. His work adheres to everyday life, but explores, through his interests in world literature, major issues often avoided by popular culture – such as self-destruction and sacrifice.
Michał Borczuch’s greatest success of 2016 was his play Everything about my mother. The title is borrowed from Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s film of the same name, but is in fact a personal project for Borczuch based on the memories of his mother and the mother of actor and frequent collaborator Krzysztof Zarzecki; both women died from cancer. Premiering in April last year, it won the Grand Prix at the 2016 Boska Komedia Festival in Kraków. The play was described as neither sentimental nor biography. It was also characterized by critics as “pure honesty” and “brutal at times”. The stories of Borczuch and Zarzecki and memories from their childhood and teenage years become a means to explore the ephemeral nature of memory itself – and to take an ironic trip back to the Poland of the 1980s and 1990s.
Another success, in October 2016, was his production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, at the Stefan Jaracz Theatre in Łódź, the region’s oldest theatre, known for hosting some of the greatest plays by distinguished Polish and foreign playwrights. The Beckett estate imposes strict conditions on productions of the Irish genius’s plays, but Borczuch injected new elements into Beckett’s minimalist masterpiece by exchanging the characters between the actors and arranging them into new configurations. Borczuch says, in general, of his own productions: “I’m experimenting even more with how to break into pieces a linear plot and, of course, how to deal with the audience by, for example, showing a story from as many different views as possible.” Witold Mrozek of Gazeta Wyborcza (online) said that in Borczuch’s hands “the text of Beckett gained a completely new life”.
Borczuch’s current production, The Call of Cthulhu, draws on the work of a highly eccentric American author, H P Lovecraft. Born in 1890, he struggled to make a living from publishing his horror fiction in magazines. He died in poverty in 1937, but his work has won widespread recognition since his death, with a strong cult following. The play is based upon some of Lovecraft’s best-loved tales, Cthulhu being the name of a cosmic entity invented by the writer.
Borczuch’s next work, Komodo Dragons, promises to be his most controversial yet – on the issue of child sacrifice. He wrote and directed the film, with shooting beginning in June 2015 and ending in March 2016.
“The decision [to make this film] was an impulse,” Borczuch says. “I was watching how my brother and sister take care of their children and I wondered what it would be like if we went back to the ancient – even biblical – tradition [of child sacrifice]. How would we, as human beings, deal with this archetypal action, on the crossroads of humanity and faith? It’s a kind of parable, an allegory of modern times in which we no longer have to deal with such cruel demands, but they are lurking inside us, under our civilized veneer.
“Naturally I’m expecting some reflections on the part of the audience. The film isn’t brutal or graphic, but because of the specific perspective – and the presence of autistic people in the film – it should force them to think about morality and faith.”
Because of Borczuch’s theatre work, the film’s post-production had to wait till this year. Copies of the film have recently been sent to international film festivals. The premiere will be held soon.
Borczuch has another premiere scheduled for October this year − his stage adaptation of Karl Ove Knausgård’s international literary sensation, the autobiographical series of novels, My Struggle, which has earned him descriptions as a modern-day Proust.
And, in yet another major project in a very busy 2017, Borczuch hopes to get financial support from the Polish Film Institute to begin work on a new film.
One thing, however, is missing. Borczuch would have liked to collaborate with his Rolex mentor, Patrice Chéreau, who died in October 2013, a few months after the young Polish director’s mentorship ended. “My dream was to participate in a movie production by him,” the former protégé says. “To see him on a film set would have been great. And, of course, sharing with him impressions of my film would have been very precious.”
Looking back at his mentorship, Borczuch says the most inspiring thing about Patrice Chéreau was “what kind of person he was ‘behind the stage’. His sensitivity and sense of humour were very close to me. But I also remember how very precise his interpretations of text were.
“When we were talking in his house in Seville about the libretto before [Chéreau’s] production of [Strauss’s opera] Elektra, he was really angry about some simplifications of the story and characters. In this beautiful house, with its many rooms, where he spent time alone, surrounded by works of art, books, CDs and ancient furniture, he seemed to me like an archaeologist – with his many notebooks full of his notes about Elektra and with his endless returns to the original Greek sources to understand better and more deeply the tragedy of the family of Agamemnon [Elektra’s father],” says Borczuch.
“To be in his workshop was a very precious experience. And, for me, it was even more about what kind of man he was than how an artist works. Because dealing with productions, handling the media, always looks the same, for any director: you just have to deal with it and it is easy to learn. But to create your own way of thinking as an artist – that is something you have to achieve.”