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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » September 3, 2008
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Holland Resumes Film on Legendary Outlaw
September 3, 2008   
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After a lapse of five years, Polish film director Agnieszka Holland and her director daughter Katarzyna Adamik have resumed work on The True Story of Janosik, an international production recounting the adventures of a legendary highland robber who is Central Europe's equivalent to Robin Hood.

The project previously stalled after one of the movie's investors suddenly backed out in 2003. The film's budget is now more than zl.21 million, which makes it one of the most expensive productions in Poland since the collapse of communism in 1989. Apple Film Production is co-producing the film with Telewizja Polska, HBO, the Polish Institute of Film Art, and several Czech, Slovak and Hungarian firms.

Filming started on July 21 and scenes have already been shot in castles in Nowy Wiślicz and Niedzica and in the Kościeliska and Chochołowska Valleys. Filming should be completed in September. The crew is filming a four-part television series at the same time as the feature film. Czech actor Vaclav Jiracek plays Janosik, while Michał Żebrowski and Katarzyna Herman are among the Polish actors in the film and series.

The True Story of Janosik will be the third Polish production about the legendary bandit. The best known is Jerzy Passendorfer's 1973 film, which was also accompanied by a 13-part television series broadcast for the first time in the summer of 1976. Tadeusz Kwiatkowski's script depicted Janosik as an outlaw in the mold of Robin Hood, who stole from the rich and gave to the poor in the name of justice.

The True Story of Janosik, as the title implies, is intended to be truer to historical facts. "We want to try and distance ourselves from [Passendorfer's Janosik] so as to prevent comparison," said Holland. "This is not a remake. We want to approach the subject in a totally different way. We are trying to base the story on true folklore, on the lives of people in the mountains. We want to find a new visual language and present Janosik in an interesting way to people who know him well already and to viewers from abroad. This is to be a universal story."

"The film is based on facts," adds Holland. "But at the same time it is a poetical and metaphysical story."

Holland was captivated by traditional Slovak ballads, which are a combination of poetry, the absurd and cruelty. "We want to impart maximum realism and be true to historical facts," said Holland in an interview for Polish daily Dziennik. "Janosik will be dressed in costume from the time in which he lived, or the early 18th century, and not from the following century as in earlier films. We will show authentic folklore and customs from that period. This will be a romantic Western-a bit of adventure and romance but also a lot of bitterness. It will also be a story about how the hero matures, how he thought that he could create a reality but this reality was his undoing. Definitely the film will be more tragic than comic."

The film's Slovak scriptwriter, Eva Borusovicova, researched historical records, those of Janosik's court case in particular. The truth about Janosik may for many people not be as palatable as the iconic legend, which they have gotten used to.

While Poland's highlanders have always regarded Janosik as one of their own, Juraj Janosik was in fact born in 1688 in Slovakia, at the time under the rule of the Habsburg monarchy.

In 1703, he took part in an anti-Habsburg uprising led by Francis Rakoczy in Hungary. A few years later he joined the Austrian army and served in a regiment stationed in the castle in Bytca, a prison for dangerous criminals. There he met Tomas Uhorcik, the ringleader of bandits in the Carpathian Mountains. Janosik helped Uhorcik escape, deserted the army and joined the bandits. When in 1711 Uhorcik left the gang, Janosik became its leader.

Contrary to the legend of a good outlaw, Janosik was mainly interested in himself and his own people. Some local magnates supported him. He shared his spoils with them and in return they got him out of trouble. In the spring of 1713, he was caught and imprisoned in a medieval castle in Liptovsky Mikulas, where he was tried. The court sentenced him to death by hanging from a hook. The hanging probably took place the day after the court case, on March 18, 1713.

The aim of The True Story of Janosik is not only to show the life of the legendary ringleader, the filmmakers say. The movie also aims to depict the mountain people's lifestyle at that time, which was the result of a meeting of three cultures, Czech, Polish and Slovak, linked together by the Tatra Mountains.

The film's premiere is scheduled for September next year.

Magdalena Błaszczyk


Agnieszka Holland was born in 1948. In 1971 she graduated from Prague's Film School (FAMU) where her lecturers included directors Milos Forman and Ivan Passer. Her first film work was as assistant to Polish director Krzysztof Zanussi on the set of his 1973 film Illumination. In 1974 she acted in a West German made-for-television film. She had to wait until 1978 for her directional debut. Her film Provincial Actors won many awards, including the FIPRESCI award at the International Film Festival in Cannes. This was the beginning of an award-winning career for Holland. When Poland's communist authorities declared martial law in 1981, Holland emigrated to Paris. She made Bittere Ernte in 1985 in Germany with Armin Mueller-Stahl. This is a story about a boy and a Jewish woman whom he hides during World War II. The film won the jury's award at the International Film Festival in Montreal and an Oscar nomination for best foreign film. Holland received a second Oscar nomination for the script for another war film, Europa, Europa, made in 1991 and based on the true story of a Jewish boy who hides his identity while serving in the Hitler-Jugend, or Hitler Youth.

Holland's biggest success to date is her 1993 adaptation of the children's story by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden. Holland is also a scriptwriter. Besides scripts for her own films, she wrote scripts for Bez znieczulenia (1978), Danton (1982), Miłość w Niemczech (1983) and Andrzej Wajda's Korczak (1990). She also worked on Krzysztof Kieślowski's trilogy Three Colors, on Blue (1993) in particular.
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