‘Violence Often Starts With a Joke’: Damian Kocur Talks ‘Bread and Salt,’ Teases ‘A Night Without an End’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Since its premiere in Venice, where it scooped the Special Jury Prize in the Horizons section, Damian Kocur’s feature debut “Bread and Salt” has been enjoying a stellar festival run. But the Polish helmer is already planning his next move, teasing a new project under the working title “A Night Without an End” at the Cairo Film Festival, where “Bread and Salt” plays in the International Competition section.

The story will deal with the infamous refugee crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border, reveals Kocur. He is determined to focus on the human side of the story, not politics.

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“Ultimately, it’s about one person meeting another,” he says. Anna Gawlita of Kijora Films will produce.

“Damian will tackle the extremely important yet sensitive topic: the attitude of local residents toward migrants who show up in their neighborhood, depicting the complex system of relationships that exist in closed communities like small towns and villages,” she adds.

“However, he will portray them without moralizing, without judging. This way, he opens up a discussion that has no national boundaries. Suddenly, this small Polish town could just as well be an Italian, Hungarian or Greek [town].”

“I don’t care if there have been many films about [migrants] already: they are not my films. It’s like saying there have been too many films about love,” says Kocur.

“We have exhausted all the topics, so now it’s a matter of using your own voice, trying to express something sincere. If you do that, your film will always be different.”

Kocur already brought this personal approach to “Bread and Salt,” inspired by a real-life brawl outside a kebab shop, whose tragic outcome sparked race riots in his home country back in 2017. Brothers Tymoteusz and Jacek Bies are cast in the lead roles.

“I have known them since they were kids, I was friends with their older brother. I always combine fiction with real events or with the people I meet. That’s what cinema feeds on: these short moments where you can feel something authentic.”

In the film, produced by Munk Studio, a young pianist comes back home for the summer. He spends time with his brother, with their friends, they hang out around a new kebab restaurant. But their jokes, directed at its foreign owners, quickly turn sour.

“Violence often starts with a ‘joke,’” he says.

“Poland is contaminated with this toxicity and I don’t even know why. The period of communism was hard on us, then societal changes happened a bit too quickly. Cristi Puiu talked about the very same thing in ‘Sieranevada.’ All these post-communist societies are broken.”

“We like it when people praise us, but we should also be able to criticize things that aren’t working. It’s not like I invented violence, xenophobia and homophobia. They are there, constantly present.”

He wrote the film “quickly, intuitively” in under three weeks. Marta Konarzewska is credited as a collaborating writer.

“Someone wrote about the film that it combines Kiarostami’s observational style with Haneke’s psychological tension. Needless to say, they made my day,” laughs Kocur.

“I was trying to focus on the internal experience here, even though it has very concrete results. When I started going to therapy, I learnt a lot about cinema. At first, I was afraid to lose all my neuroses and traumas. I thought they were my driving force. It turned out to be the exact opposite.”

“Haneke said that if you achieve half of what you set out to do, that’s a lot. And I have achieved 120%! I’m not saying that to boast, but I had to let go in order to make this film. I allowed myself, and the people around me, to just be there and watch.”

Kocur, who shares a similar background to that of his characters, never set out to demonize them or their environment.

“I am not one of these Polish directors who sip their expensive coffee and talk about poverty in the province. There is violence there, sure, but my understanding of these people made this story much warmer,” he notes.

“That’s where I came from and you know what? It felt great, being there. We would eat sunflower seeds and spit out the shells all day long. It was fucking funny. Maybe that’s why I got here a bit later: I was sitting on that bench, shelling sunflower seeds. But it also shaped who I am.”

Kocur is repped by Match and Spark.

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