Agnieszka Holland, filmmaker: “I applied for French nationality as soon as I could”

Agnieszka Holland, filmmaker: “I applied for French nationality as soon as I could”


Agnieszka Holland grew up under the communist dictatorship. At 13, she lost her father, who threw himself out of a window after being wrongly accused of spying by the regime. From the trials that marked her life, she drew strength that allowed her to lead a remarkable career as a director between Poland, France and the United States. At 75, the committed filmmaker, who fights the nationalist populism of the Law and Justice party (PiS), was the target of violent attacks by the Polish conservative right because of her latest feature film, Green Border (Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival), which deals with the fate of migrants between Belarus and Poland.

I wouldn’t have gotten here if…

…If my mother hadn’t had faith in me. She raised me with the idea that I was special but also privileged. I could do whatever I wanted, but I had to share. Every time I wanted a toy, a doll, and got it, she told me the story of a child she knew, sick or poorer, who was not as lucky as I was, and invited me to give him what I had just received. She taught me not to get attached to material things.

What was your mother like?

She was very beautiful, tender, while lacking self-confidence. Her mother died when she was 6 months old. His father remarried a woman who was not very loving. I understood to what extent my mother was marked by this childhood wound. She was born into a Catholic family, but lost her faith at an early age. She prayed so much – in vain – for her mother to come back that she told herself that God did not exist.

Where are your maternal grandparents from?

My grandfather came from a large and very poor peasant family. He became a teacher. At the time my mother was born, he was an inspector of schoolchildren in the Volhynia region [today in Ukraine] . The children there spoke Ukrainian, but the government, which wanted to show that the region was “polonized,” asked my father to falsify the statistics, which he refused to do. He was chased from his post. As someone who started from the bottom, he took rights and duties very seriously. This attitude influenced my mother and, in a way, my character as well.

And on your father’s side?

He came from a Jewish family, also quite poor, but with high ambitions for their only son. He was very talented. He studied medicine at a time when it was very difficult for Jews to access it. My grandparents died in the Warsaw ghetto before the great deportation of the Jews. The brothers and sisters of my grandfather, who was a tailor, all disappeared in the Holocaust. My father got involved very early in the communist youth. Later, when the Germans attacked the Soviet Union, he joined the Red Army. And when Stalin created a second Polish army, he signed up and marched to Berlin. After the war, he worked for a newspaper aimed at communist youth. He was a fervent Stalinist. But, at the same time, a rebellious man who was not very friendly with the party leaders. He quickly ran into problems.

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