Berlin Film Festival: Agnieszka Holland runs with the wolves

In spite of negative responses to the film, Holland is confident that things can change.

AGNIESZKA MANDAT stars in Agnieszka Holland’s ‘Spoor’ (photo credit: ROBERT PAEKA)
AGNIESZKA MANDAT stars in Agnieszka Holland’s ‘Spoor’
(photo credit: ROBERT PAEKA)
Lots of people try to make movies that seem quirky and unusual, but few are as genuinely strange as Agnieszka Holland’s Spoor, which had its world premiere in the main competition of this year’s Berlin Film Festival. It won the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize for a feature film that opens new perspectives.
You never know what to expect from this eclectic Polish director, who is best known for two Oscar-nominated films she made about the Holocaust, In Darkness and Europa, Europa. But she has also made a biopic of Beethoven starring Ed Harris, Copying Beethoven, and adaptations of a beloved British children’s book, The Secret Garden, and the Henry James novel Washington Square.
In addition, she moves back and forth between the worlds of European art filmmaking and American television. She has directed episodes of The Wire, The Affair, Cold Case, The Killing and House of Cards, among others.
Spoor combines elements of a drama about an independent older woman living on her own at the edge of the forest, a passionate animal-rights polemic and a murder mystery about aggressive men being murdered in a small Polish town.
“It’s a mix of different genres,” said Holland, in an interview at a hotel near the Berlinale, which, bizarrely given the film’s subject matter, was decorated with sculptures and images of just the kind of animals Holland’s heroine tries to protect in the film. “The audience doesn’t know what to expect. This attracted me... but I know when they will cry and when they will laugh.”
Much of the movie, which has a dreamlike (and sometimes nightmarish) quality, takes place in snow-covered forests, and in nearly every outdoor scene, animals watch the action take place, even if they are not at the center of the frame. So that no animals were harmed making the film, she said, the images of animals being shot were taken from documentaries about hunting.
The film has drawn harsh criticism in Poland, where people were angered by its negative portrayal of hunters, as well as its critique of the church.
“It polarized people... I knew for a while it’s provocative... I wanted to provoke people to independent thinking... anything is better than lazy indifference. If you open some kind of sensibility, it can trigger new thinking.”
In spite of these negative responses to the film, Holland is confident that things can change, and that thought-provoking films such as Spoor can open the way. She cites how gay characters on American television shows and in movies such as Philadelphia paved the way for equal rights and acceptance.
“I knew the film was touching hot issues, but I didn’t think the debate will be so political,” she said.
“I thought it’s just a thriller and a fairy tale about an eccentric woman.”