No Matter How Hard We Tried – Grzegorz Jarzyna
In transposing Dorota Masłowska’s play to the screen, Grzegorz Jarzyna tells about post-transformation Poland. No Matter How Hard We Tried is a humorous tale about the empty forms that make up the modern social fabric: about language, politics and the theatre of cultural roles.
Four years after the premiere of the theatre version of No Matter How Hard We Tried / Między name dobrze jest, Grzegorz Jarzyna decided to translate Masłowska’s play into a new language – that of film. New, but not completely – after all, the film version of No Matter How Hard We Tried is set on the same stage of the TR Warszawa theatre as Jarzyna’s theatrical version. The boundaries of this space are defined by the walls of a cramped room which is the home of three lonely women. Grandma (Danuta Szaflarska) or the “depressed old woman in a wheelchair” constantly reminisces about her youth and the War. Her daughter (Magdalena Kuta), is a fifty-year-old clerk at Tesco, who reads tabloids after work found in the garbage. The youngest of these three characters – the Little Metal Girl (Aleksandra Popławska) – is dressed in an old school uniform and rebels against everything and everybody.
The three women that Masłowska and Jarzyna invite on stage in It’s Good… represent three generations and three ideas of Poland. In the small room, the mythologized wartime past of the grandmother meets the sad present of the proletarian jaded by life. The future is a denial of both of them – the Little Metal Girl can define herself only through rebellion.
Jarzyna transcribes Polishness into different parts with different voices. Apart from the three main characters, there is also a neighbour handing out flyers (Maria Maj), a gay director (superbly played by Adam Woronowicz), an actor with a fondness for drugs (Rafał Maćkowiak), an elegantly dressed TV presenter (Agnieszka Podsiadlik), and an overdressed thirty-year-old (Roma Gąsiorowska) appear in the film – various social groups and various ideas of Poland. We have the economically excluded, representatives of the middle-class, celebrities, and members of the forgotten older generation.
Each of the characters speaks in a language that the others don’t understand. The fifty-year-old uses phrases borrowed from popular magazines. The obese neighbour calls herself “a fat swine” that shouldn’t spoil the view of others. The grandmother talks about the outbreak of the War using impeccable Polish whereas the granddaughter, apart from vulgarisms, belches out words taken from the internet whose meanings aren't understood. In Jarzyna’s film, the disintegration of relations takes place in the sphere of language. Instead of people, the viewers see characters/emblems that are like holograms entering the real world.
In transposing No Matter How Hard We Tried to the screen, Jarzyna combined theatrical and film editing and also makes use of animation. The changing colours of the lighting of the theatrical decorations determine the character of the film and thanks to video projections, the characters from various worlds meet in one place.
In the film version of No Matter How Hard We Tried, the space of the drama is created before our eyes. The Little Metal Girl draws the contours of walls, a door and a knob in a bright room. This isn’t just a director’s trick but a metaphorical device showing that the characters, their dramas and dialogues are only a convention and were designed in the image and likeness of us.
The keyword to understanding Jarzyna’s film is conventionality. The film space, the characters that personify Polish complexes and ambitions, and the language which the film characters use are conventional. Jarzyna (as Masłowska before him) shows the world as a set of empty forms that have no meaning. Real dialogue is substituted by overheard slogans, advertising Newspeak, and political gibberish. In No Matter How Hard We Tried, language doesn’t carry any meaning and determines only social, financial and cultural statuses. The characters’ words are clichés: the actor tells about his “spiritual search” in an interview, the director emphatically speaks about the excluded and gay people who are “well-kept and misunderstood”. The phrasemongering fest ends with a monologue delivered by a politician (a great display by Lech Łotocki), who gives a fiery speech on a TV screen about a golden era when the whole world was Polish.
When talking about the various ideas of Poland, Jarzyna makes fun of all of them. He laughs at those who listen to Chopin’s Prelude in E-minor and long for the idealized past, and at the left-wing discourse about the excluded and the owning class. He mocks the middle class for whom the Ikea catalogue is the Bible of everyday life. At the same time, he creates a horrific, humorous sketch about the contemporary precariat. No Matter How Hard We Tried is, after all, a grotesque tale about the disintegration of language and social and interpersonal structures.
Jarzyna has been experimenting with cinema for years. He doesn’t indulge in filmmaking but he makes use of film language, taking what he needs from it. On theatrical stages, he has put on “cinematic” plays by Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration / Uroczystość), Pier Paolo Passolini (T.E.O.R.E.M.A. / T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T.) and John Cassavetes (The Second Woman / Druga Kobieta). In collaboration with the National Audiovisual Institute, he filmed the play 2007: Macbeth, which was staged in the TR Warszawa theatre. Balancing on the line between the grammars of theatre and film, Jarzyna created It’s Good between Us, a bold and excellent film in which a sad story about 21st century Poland emerges from the stream of gags and linguistic jokes.
- No Matter How Hard We Tried / Między nami dobrze jest, Direction and screenplay: Grzegorz Jarzyna, after a play by Dorota Masłowska, cinematography: Radosław Ładczuk, editing: Rafał Listopad, scenography: Magdalena Maciejewska, cast: Adam Woronowicz, Danuta Szaflarska, Magdalena Kuta, Maria Maj, Rafał Maćkowiak, Roma Gąsiorowska, Aleksandra Popławska, Lech Łotocki, Rafał Maćkowiak, Agnieszka Podsiadlik, Katarzyna Warnke. Premiere: O3.10.2014. Distribution: the New Horizons Association.
Translated by: Marek KępaBartosz Staszczyszyn