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CentEast Student Report: Urszula Antoniak: Things around us are extention of who we are

Mariana Hristova for CentEast 2009-10-20
Urszula Antoniak's feature debut Nothing Personal is an intimate portrait of loneliness as a reincarnative state of mind

- the plot meets a young rebel who's just got rid of her previous life and a fifty something loner who enjoys his freedom on a deserted island. There's one basic rule between them - no personal questions, no contact, only work - but someone soon will brake the deal. The Polish born directress who lives in the Netherlands has been already awarded in Locarno for best first film and now her sincere confession in frames appears to be one of the most curious discoveries at the Warsaw Film Festival

Nothing personal seems to be a very personal film actually. Is there a real story behind it? Yes, that's my own experience. After the death of my husband I've thrown away all his positions - books, music, clothes, everything connected with him. In the first scene of the movie you see people grabbing things from the street and a woman staring at them from the window of an empty apartment. That is pretty much how I remember it. At that time an idea came to me - that things around us are extention of who we are. Or maybe we are extention of things. And I thought: What would it be if someone commits a metaphorical suicide just throwing everything away and remaining a tabula rasa. Without signs to other people how to "read" this person. This is the woman's character in my movie. In the western world loneliness is considered as something pitiful but here she chooses her loneliness. There's no notions what happened in her past - maybe it was tragic or she just doesn't want this materialistic approach to life anymore. She takes with her only things that needs to survive. And music also because as Nietzsche says:"Life without music is an error". You can sleep in a tent and listen to nature sounds but you also need music because it contains the essence of the harmony.

Is it possible to get rid of the past just throwing things away? Actually not. It's impossible to erase someone you love. But I can compare it to a strong medicine. In ancient culture when a person died he was buried together with all his possessions including his wife and dog. This is a ritual which means that when someone dies all his world disappears with him. My dead husband is still with me in some sense and this didn't help me to stop missing him but I felt that I had to do that.

So you are the prototype of the female character? Not exactly. I didn't become a vagabond like her. I had my apartment in Amsterdam and there were whole weeks passing by when I didn't see anyone. I needed to hear my own voice, to find myself and then would be prepared to talk to people. Loneliness is a very creative, also very human state. In Nothing Personal there are two shapes of this condition - at the beginning the woman chooses it but at the end she was left alone by someone who commits a suicide, someone who she started to like, even maybe love.

Your characters are looking for loneliness but at the same time it appears they still want to meet someone. Do you think they would like and even notice each other if they were surrounded by other people? Interesting question which I didn't ask myself. Each of them represents very different approaches to loneliness. She is very radical - no things, no roots, no connections, just being like a rolling stone moving from one place to another. Martin, the guy, is a different case. He doesn't want people around but likes to enjoy good possessions - books, music, good food, wine. I understand him more. Maybe would not live there but could spend some months in the year like him. But basically these two characters are pretty similar and they enter an ironic relationship. Ironic because if they really want loneliness, this means they cannot be together but at the same time they are looking for the same existential state. That's how I define them and now - to the question! If they were surrounded by people, maybe they wouldn't have the opportunity to be themselves. Probably if they met in their previous lives (when she was for example a secretary and he was maybe a writer, who knows?), they would never recognize each other.

Is it possible for two people to start love each other just because they live together? At the beginning she was very rude with him but he slightly managed to cultivate her and she became interested in his personality. This question immediately reminds me my grandmother. She was Jewish, lived in times when marriages were arranged and was always saying that if you put any man with any women to live together, sooner or later they will fit. As long as they have very clear roles and maybe their life will be even better than being in love. Love is quite a turbulent feeling that can quit or change at any time. To feel passion means to take a risk. I divided my film into five parts which represent the stages of a relationship - loneliness, a will for a relationship (when you decide you want to be with someone sharing a house together), marriage (the safe routine of the everyday life), the beginning of a relationship (the very important point where you start to be curious about the other person), and its end (could be death or just separation). This is valid for any relationship.

Why do you put marriage before the beginning of the relationship? Isn't it supposed to be the opposite? When I say "marriage", I mean comfort. To invite someone getting closer, you firstly need to feel safe with him. I put this titles between the episodes to make people think, even if they don't necessarily understand everything.

How did you choose this Irish island for a filming location? I was looking for a landscape that could be a metaphor for a lonely soul, something in the middle of nowhere. There is no such a place in Holland, so we found Connemara island in Ireland. Romans believed it has certain spirit - it's not you who looks at the place, the place looks at you. There's strong presence there and you can feel it. Not many people live there because the weather conditions are pretty tough, somehow austere to human beings. But if you're searching for loneliness, this is the place. Actually the house we were shooting in is Oscar Wilde's family house.

The characters stay quite anonymous during the whole movie, they do not have certain biographies. Why did you choose then for the part of Martin Stephen Rea who is quite a popular face? Weren't you afraid audience could associate him with some previous roles? I wanted to make Nothing Personal pretty universal. It was shot in Ireland but you cannot say exactly where it is. And the characters are iconic - she is the rebel, he is the old wise man. Stephen Rea has a very peculiar face - a combination between irony and strength. And irony is the spice of life. I chose him not so much for the talent but because of his face and think it is quite easy to forget this is Stephen Rea and accept him just as Martin, when you are really in the movie.

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