Master of Realism: An Interview with Agnieszka Holland

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One of the greatest female directors of our time is Agnieszka Holland. The Polish-born filmmaker, known for films like Europa Europa and In Darkness, is known for her realistic-style of depicting events, based on what she endured and heard about during the old days of oppression in Eastern Europe. On June 19, Holland’s latest film, the story of Mr. Jones, comes to life on Digital from Samuel Goldwyn Films.

WorldFilmGeek had the honor to talk to Holland about her latest film.

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You are an absolute legend and I am honored to talk with you about Mr. Jones. This was a really good film that I think is an important film because it felt all too realistic, something you’re known for doing, bringing that sense of realism to life.
Thank you.

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James Norton as the titular Mr. Jones (Samuel Goldwyn Films)

The film offers us a look at not only a look at the Soviet Union in the 1930s, but in some way, it’s a depiction of the horrors involving journalism and propaganda, something not often seen in films. What made you want to direct the story of Gareth Jones?
Well, this was one of the reasons why I wanted to make the film. After reading the script and thinking about it. It’s a very important reason. It’s the questions the story asks in the mind of the journalist. What does it mean to be a journalist? Especially one who tries to be objective and be able to investigate the facts and the political agenda. How the fake news is used and how the manipulation of the propaganda works as well.

Those are the questions I thought about and I also thought about to see it from a distance. Things that are taken out of context and to see the price for neglecting the truth. The corruption of the media and the politicians as well as public opinion. It’s combination of both a tribute to Gareth Jones but also a warning about the dangers of the media.

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James Norton, Agnieszka Holland, and Peter Sarsgaard at the red-carpet premiere of Mr. Jones

The cast is amazing in this film, especially James Norton as the titular Mr. Jones and Peter Sarsgaard, who tends to play these characters who are a bit on the slimy side and in this case, it’s Walter Duranty, who denounced the famine. What was it like working with the cast on the film?
Peter is such an intelligent man and actor. It’s difficult to find such an actor who can convey both the sharpness and greed of the characters. As for James, I am so grateful that I got to work with him. I think he’s such a talented actor and a sensitive soul. He had the perfect qualities to play the role. He was simple and authentic. He’s curious and very bright. He really prepared for the role and we worked together on how to make the character very realistic. He was so subtle and convincing with the role and where the character was going. When I put the film together in the editing room, I realized what an amazing performer he was because he did it so right.

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Agnieszka Holland on the set of Mr. Jones

As I’ve said, the film has a realistic approach and one scene that will never be forgotten is the scene where Mr. Jones approaches two children in a home and they talk about their sibling who disappeared and it’s pretty much both implied and confirmed that it involved a very disturbing and yet, real thing. Was research done to prove it actually happened as a result of the famine?
It was a risky scene to have done. It was difficult for people to watch as well as accept. However, that’s the reality of what had happened during that time. The family resorting to that was very current at the time because it was the only way to survive. The parents would also die and the children found themselves with no other choice but to resort to that. And if the parents were alive and hungry, they had to resort to that as well. It is something that’s beyond our imaginations, but at the same we never understood the true nature of this crime against humanity that was perpetrated without seeing the consequences.

And this is exactly why I love your films because you don’t hold back or sugarcoat anything.
Thank you.

Finally, are there any new projects you can talk about that are in the works?
Yes. I worked on a new film right after Mr. Jones called Charlatan, which premiered a few months ago at the Berlin Film Festival. And it is a Czech story with a Czech cast and in the language as well. It was supposed to have come out in theaters, but due to the lockdown it didn’t happen. I’m hoping that it will come out once the theaters re-open.

That will be great! Mr. Jones comes out on June 19th, and any fan of both biopics and historical films will need to see this as it brings a sense of importance. Agnieszka, it’s been an honor to talk with you about the film and I hope you stay safe and continue your success.
Thank you so much and stay safe!

A Special Thank You goes to Katrina Wan PR and Agnieszka Holland for making this interview possible.

 

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