A Polish film about late blossoming love and the filmmakers’ fascination for women ‘of a certain age’ with a zest for life.
Polish filmmakers Małgorzata Goliszewska and Kasia Mateja met seven years ago while working together on a documentary workshop/mobile cinema scheme project. They became firm friends.
One day, Goliszewska asked Mateja if she would like to be the cinematographer on a new documentary she was planning about a dancing club for senior citizens in their home town, Szczecin. That was how they came to work together on Lessons of Love, that world premiered at IDFA 2019 and is now selected for the Changing Face of Europe programme at online Hot Docs 2020. The film is dold by Autlook.
“I felt like it was our film. I also felt that it was, for me, too big a task,” Goliszewska explains of why she eventually asked Mateja to become the film’s co-director.
The young filmmakers were fascinated by the elderly women “of a certain age” who had so much zest for life. Mateja was struck in particular by Jola, a diminutive but very glamorous and well-dressed figure with a spark in her eye. “From the moment I saw her, I thought what a magnetic person she is. I thought the project is impossible without this lady.”
It turned out that Jola had recently undergone surgery for stomach cancer but was slowly recovering. On the 31 August 2016 (a date fixed in Mateja’s memory because it was also her birthday) they met Jola properly.
“She was an extremely open person. It felt like she wanted to be shot by the camera. But later I heard her perspective. She said that before this operation to remove her stomach, she was so afraid and miserable. Her mother had died shortly before so she had had a difficult period in her life.”
Adding to Jola’s misery was the attitude of her husband, a drunk who was abusive toward her. During the stomach operation, she went through an “inner change.” After she survived, she thought to herself – ‘OK, I don’t care about anything anymore. I just want to do something for myself’.”
Jola had the inner courage to start looking for a new man. She was also happy to let the cameras follow her – and to open up in front of them. “The process of making the film and of finding the boyfriend, I think they were so much dependent on each other,” Mateja suggests. Being the subject of a documentary filled the sixty-something lady with pride and new courage.
The filmmakers went with Jola to Italy where she and her husband had a home. They were wary about how the husband might react to having a five person film crew suddenly turn up in his backyard. He took it in his stride. Jola had told the filmmakers to pretend they were cousins. He saw through such pretences, telling them that he knew exactly who they were and that they were making a documentary in which he was being cast as “the bad guy.”
Even so, he allowed them to go ahead. “Most of the time he was drunk, unfortunately. It was like he knew but he didn’t care.” He was even ready to sign papers that cleared the filmmakers to use footage of him.
The two filmmakers shot almost 300 hours. They’re full of praise for their editor, Alan Zejer, who helped them knit the material together into a final cut of just over 70 minutes.
Mateja originally studied law before moving to London and then to Scotland, where she studied film at the Edinburgh College of Art. For her part, Goliszewska studied at the DocPro course at the Wajda School. “It was the only school at the time that had a documentary course. I never wanted to go to film school, because I was never interested in fiction and, at the film school, you mainly have to do fiction.”
Will they work together again? The two directors haven’t made up their mind. After all their efforts in making Lessons of Love, they want to spend some time focussing on their personal lives.