Buried Ghosts: Producer Olga Szymanska on Marcin Wrona’s Demon and Polish-Jewish Legend

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MM: Aesthetically, Demon has a singular color palette. What was Marcin’s vision regarding the cinematography and visual components of the film?

OS: Marcin worked with cinematographer Pawel Flis in all his feature films. They were friends since university and they knew each other very well. What they wanted to achieve was for the film to look like an old photograph. Every element of the film was made with this in mind. The costumes are pretty pale and they look like they could be from any period between ’60s to the ’80s. The same with the colors in the house and other locationsthey are all pale. They first wanted to make the look very static, with very little camera movement. Once they got into the wedding everything was moving faster and faster, so they decided to move the camera to show the craziness of what was going on.

MM: There is no definitive explanation to what takes place in Demon and one is left to piece together this unnerving puzzle. Is this ambiguity something that Marcin felt was crucial to get his point across?

OS: Marcin liked open endings. This was also present in is previous movie [The Christening (2010)]. He wanted to leave behind a question mark. He wanted to leave the audience with their questions and their own answers. You can choose a metaphysical ending or you can choose a realistic ending. This is what I like about his work, that when you leave the cinema you have the movie inside of you for a while. When you finish watching it you don’t get an easy answer, you have to think about it, go deep, go inside the movie, and sometimes you have to watch it again. You will find different questions and answers when you watch it again. But after the third or fourth viewing, you might find other disturbing questions.

MM: How would you describe the atmosphere of the shooting process, given the content and locations?

OS: It was crazy. There was a lot of tension because they mostly shot at night. They slept very little. It’s very difficult because they would start shooting at 6 p.m. and they would finish at 4 p.m. the next day. That was very tiring. They were tired, but in this weird energy dance. You could feel this was a special set. This isolated place, drowned in mist, was haunted. You felt a strange energy there.

MM: Other recent Polish films, such as Ida, have dealt with the county’s role during World War II and have been under fire by those who don’t want to discuss this part of its history. What was the public and critical reaction like toward Demon upon its release in Poland?

OS: The reactions to the film in Poland have been mostly good, but the circumstances of the premiere were uneasy. In other circumstances I think it would have been much better, but I think the film will have another chance once everything is quieter. The film will probably premiere on TV next year and I think there will be more discussions about the film then than there were when it opened last year, because it was in the shadow of what happened [to Marcin]. In terms of criticism because of its themes, the film got a little bit of that, but much less than Ida or Aftermath. That was interesting because we were expecting it to be more criticized by the major right-wing newspapers and critics. But I think the film is more about erasing the past rather than about accusing anyone.

MM: From your interaction with Marcin on a professional level as well as your personal relationship with him, what do you think he wanted to get across through Demon? 

OS: He wanted to make a universal story. He also always wanted to make films that had more than one story in them. You can read the film as you wish. The movie talks about erasing the past, how we are sometimes scared of the past, and that the future might be not exactly how you planned it. This was important for him. In Marcin’s work the ethical question were always very important. That relates to him not providing easy answers and asking you to find the answers depending on your morality. MM

Demon opened in theaters September 9, 2016, courtesy of The Orchard.

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