Weronika Bilska on ‘Polish Marilyn Monroe,’ Love for Personal Cinema

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Dubbed the “Polish Marilyn Monroe,” the late actor and singer Kalina Jędrusik used to electrify the audiences of the Polish People’s Republic with her risqué outfits, performance in Andrzej Wajda’s Oscar-nominated “The Promised Land” or unconventional relationship with husband, writer Stanisław Dygat. But “Autumn Girl” – which screens this week in the Polish Competition of the EnergaCamerimage Film Festival – named after one of her songs, “Jesienna dziewczyna,” refuses to show Jędrusik as yet another woman defined and destroyed by her sexualized image.

“They didn’t want it to be a film in which the main character is a victim,” says cinematographer Weronika Bilska, who joined the female-heavy crew led by director Katarzyna Klimkiewicz, who co-wrote the script alongside Patrycja Mnich. The film was produced by Renata Czarnkowska-Listoś and Maria Gołoś for RE Studio, with Next Film handling local distribution.

“Kasia would always say that she wanted to make something cheerful, full of brightness and color. A film that doesn’t bring anyone down, but could be seen as an invitation to pleasure.”

Although Jędrusik’s charisma was captured mostly in black and white, Bilska came across colorful stills from the sets of Polish productions from the 1960s, currently available on the website of Filmoteka Narodowa. Discovering an entirely different universe, which made it into the finished film.

Courtesy of Bartosz Mrozowski

“There were purple stockings, yellow wallpaper. This whole color palette, as bright as what we see now,” she says, pointing out that lead actor Maria Dębska – recently named best actress at the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia – was always supposed to “shimmer.”

“The light was supposed to bring out the beauty of her skin, the colors of her dresses or the scarves on her head. There was something sensual about it. Maria’s Kalina is in tune with her body, she is comfortable with her cleavage, her gestures. That’s why her behavior is never vulgar. For her, it’s just natural.”

While Bilska describes the film as a “fantasy” about Jędrusik, rather than a usual biopic, after watching the footage of the original star – accused of “scandalizing the nation” and reportedly causing First Secretary Władysław Gomułka to smash his own TV set – she became fascinated by her ambiguity and what she calls “beautiful weakness.”

“In my opinion, she suffered from imposter syndrome. When interviewed, she would say that only men can be true artists and women are their beautiful muses. She was implying that despite everything, she still ‘knew her place.’ It was quite shocking to me, but that’s a topic for another film.”

The cinematographer also had to shoot musical sequences, for the first time in her career.

“It was a nice challenge, although I’ve had this fantasy about reshooting them all over again now that I know how to do it,” she jokes. “Our choreographer Kuba Lewandowski and composer Radosław Łuka, we all did our best. I wanted Kalina’s music and the interpretation of the world in her songs to function as an autonomous element of the film.” Music played an important part also in Tomasz Habowski’s “Songs About Love,” a microbudget drama about a musician who comes across a talented young singer, which she lensed as well.

Bilska, who is filming series “Herkules,” was already awarded the Golden Tadpole at Camerimage for Marcin Maziarzewski’s short “Bad Lyrics.” She has one qualm about competing at the festival, which celebrates the art of cinematography.

“I’m glad I was invited, but it would be great if there was a Soundimage festival for sound engineers or Designimage for production designers as well. Personally, I am against the idea of favoring one occupation over the rest of the team. Such a hierarchical approach can be hurtful,” she says, admitting that she tends to look for “personal cinema” when selecting her projects.

“For me, personal cinema is the kind of cinema that makes you think. It’s not necessarily about people talking about themselves, but about how they see the world and why. In ‘Songs About Love,’ Tomek Habowski talks about the world he knows and I believe in it. I feel it’s about me and for me,” she says, mentioning Łukasz Grzegorzek’s latest feature “My Wonderful Life” as an especially satisfying collaboration. Bilska already worked on Grzegorzek’s “Kamper” and “A Coach’s Daughter.”

“This is the kind of cinema I am looking for, one that’s not just about realizing my professional dreams, but also my dreams as a viewer. With ‘My Wonderful Life,’ I think I came closest to finally realizing it,” she says.

Bilska is represented by Match & Spark management agency.