Krzysztoff Zanussi: «Artists hardly forgive insults if their ambitions and pride are hurt»
Vladimir Legoyda
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Mr. Zanussi, Forgiveness is another hard topic to talk about. 


And I’ll quote you again saying: “An artist will hardly forgive for hurting his ambitions and pride.”


So, could you tell us, were there any offences that you, as an artist, couldn’t forgive? 

It’s not so hard to forgive. If it’s impossible to take revenge, is there anything else left to do? But it’s true that there are some things I can’t forget. For example, my latest movie was widely criticized, in an organized manner, by people who don’t accept that ambitious cinema can be religious. I was attacked very severely. However, it was so only in my country. In other countries the movie saw better reactions. But anyway, now I’m working on a new one. 

You mean Extraneous body?

Yes. So, you know, in this regard it’s easier to forgive. A huge problem I feel deeply concerned about is that a generation of evil-doers is passing away. Many of them have already passed away, but they weren’t punished for the things they did in 1950s, during World War II. A lot of German perpetrators, in particular, weren’t punished. It’s very hard to accept that sometimes crimes may go unpunished. And on a related note, how can I forgive somebody if he or she doesn’t ask for forgiveness? We are used to forgiving those who admit their fault. But on the other hand, we also have justice that requires a perpetrator either to confess, or to be punished. Without punishment the society splits up, because people see evil being forgotten. We can’t forgive perpetrators on behalf of their victims who are no longer with us. We need to get back to the meaning of justice and say: “That’s unjust. We can go on like this. That’s the world we can’t accept.” This world is hard to accept, anyway. 

The things you are saying are very important, particularly, because nowadays we see a lot of debate when it comes to violations of a holy places, and we often have to explain that such things can’t be excused. If unpunished, it would lead to social disintegration – exactly what you are talking about. But you know, there’s an opinion that mercy is above judgement, and it’s very Christian in its nature. 

Yes, right. 

But it’s more applicable on a personal level, isn’t it?

No, it’s possible on the social level as well – kings or emperors were empowered to grant somebody a pardon. 

Nowadays presidents can do it as well. 

Yes, they can. You know, I have a theatre play about an 18-year-old criminal that resembled very much a composite image of a typical young French criminal. The action takes place in 1950s. The criminal was sentenced to death penalty for killing a policeman. After two or three years in prison things turned around – he came back to faith. He admitted his guilt, his two books were published, but French president Rene Coty didn’t have a legal right to pardon him – what happened after the crime has nothing to do with the crime itself. Killing a policeman at that time would be punished by death sentence. I introduced him to the story because he represents a problem I feel deeply concerned about.  Before the execution he said: “You are right to kill me, because I am guilty and I want to give my suffering for the sake of all those who did not understand their crime.” From a moral point of view, he is a great man.

That is very powerful. 

But on the other hand, we see that everything is not that simple with pardoning, and the perpetrator should understand and admit his guilt and try to do something to make up for his wrong-doings. Just saying “I’m sorry” is not enough. Try to do something, at least symbolic, but of course, preferably, something tangible, give something away to reclaim your fault, at least partially. It’s too easy to say: “Okay, never mind.” It’s forgiveness “out of laziness”, it’s not what Gospel tells about. 

Mr. Zanussi, another personal question, if you don’t mind. Were there people in your life, who you couldn’t apologize to before it was too late?

No, to tell the truth. Fortunately, I’m not a very combative person, thanks to my temperament. I’m phlegmatic. My movies are pretty slow as well. If I were choleric, I would have much more enemies. But I don’t have any because, luckily for me, I always react late. I tried flying a plane, and, you know, I turned out to be a pretty talented pilot. However, I’m a bad driver. That’s because choleric people are better drivers, and phlegmatic ones are better pilots. I’ve been thinking quite a lot about it but now I can’t remember any significant conflicts, when I had to apologize to anybody. 

I mean, when you didn’t manage to apologize to some person in their lifetime. 

No, luckily, I don’t remember any of such conflicts. It’s not my virtue, it’s really a blessing. 


Mr. Zanussi, our next and final topic is Love. When we speak about love, we most often mean family love or love between a man and a woman. And here I would like to quote another passage from your book: “The images of my parents, mostly my father, appeared in my movies quite often: I would dispute with him, quote his favorite phrases, emulate some of his manners. He would attend the first staging and I would shake with fear. But each time the same story would repeat: he didn’t recognize himself, though, found resemblance between some characters and people we know.” So, I have a couple of questions, related to this. Really not a single time did he recognize himself? If so, then why couldn’t he? But the main question is: what were your reasons? Was it a lack of father’s love? Did you try to reach out to him this way? I understand, it’s very personal, but anyway. 

No, of course it’s not right. We used to have some disputes, which is quite normal for a young man. My father was a very cultured person, so maybe he would notice something in my plays, but wouldn’t reveal it. I never thought about it at that time. 

So, maybe he recognized himself. 

Maybe. Anyway, we had no major conflicts, however, he was a dominative father, and I was a rebellious son when I was young. Sometimes we would argue, shout at each other, but those disputes were over trifles. About Tchaikovsky’s music. It was the reason for a big conflict, but it never got any bigger than this. 

With your father, you mean?

Yes. As an Italian, he was fond of Tchaikovsky’s music, but in my youth I would say it was worthless, I would call it klezmer or kitsch.  Now I see, it was extreme nonsense that we all do when we are young. It was a shame and I regret it. In fact, I had better apologize not to my father, but to Tchaikovsky. 

Anyway, I think, as long as he recognized other people, probably, he would recognize himself as well. 

Maybe, a bit. Not completely. 

Mr. Zanussi, another topic and another passage from one of your books. You write: “Weakening bonds and that very same difficulty of love became the consequences of the sexual revolution. Modern culture screams about them at the top of voice but offers nothing instead.” What do you mean – “screams at the top of voice” and how is it expressed? 

A huge number of films show inability of love. 

Oh, that’s what you mean!

It is the cry of unhappy people who can't find love. But on the other hand, it is natural for a person to translate spiritual love into physical connection as well. But now this physical connection has become simple, cheap, and worthless, so it can no longer be an expression of deep feelings. It's just some kind of process that we can’t reverse Although, there’s no other expression of it for us. But I’m convinced, we need to believe that we should live in self-restraint. I don’t think we should strive to afford everything. However, we live in a consumerist society, and it is incompatible with such mission. The current sales culture is based on the human’s desire to own more and more of everything. But it’s a wrong approach. I believe, we should learn that refusal is a virtue, that we can say our “no” when somebody tries to sell us something. That’s what my friends, who work in the advertisement sector, do. Probably, your channel does have ads as well. It doesn’t provide us with information. It’s an effort to make me buy something I don’t want and mostly don’t need.  Its aim is to create desires that we don’t have. That’s basically an issue of the modern economy and the world as a whole. We can't go on living the way we've been living up to now – we can no longer want to possess more and more. Now we need to learn how to live well, having less. Only a person, who shares this view, is a reliable person for me, in love, too. And even in physical love, if we deny ourselves something, that thing becomes more valuable. Although, it is difficult to live with this slogan in our society today.

I think so. I read what you wrote about it, I was listening to you now and I suddenly caught myself thinking that really, all those transformations, including the sexual revolution, just overfed the human. They devour our children, teenagers and youth, and this is how we just lose them. Their desires are already not that strong. Even some sex-related things are already not that interesting for them. Maybe it’s some kind of a punishment. They lose connection with their bodies, lose communication and relationships, spending time with their gadgets, VR and stuff. 

Of course, this is how they get away from reality. But virtual reality is perceived as a hope for humanity that doesn’t have enough room for everyone. Once in China I heard an interesting thought and I even put it in one of my books: “If everybody wanted to lie on the beach in summer, we would probably need another beach on top. There isn’t enough reality for everyone. A great many of people can get to the riches of the world only in its virtual replica. We have billions of the Chinese and Indians, in South America the rates of population growth are huge as well. So, the question is what kind of hope is attached to the virtual world and how complete it is. All the people in the world can’t see the Mona Lisa because they would have to stand in a line for three years. That means, only the virtual Mona Lisa is available to most of us. 

This example is a bit of a stretch, I think. Everybody won’t go to Louvre at the same time, after all. 

Right, but even if not at the same time, anyway, statistics say the line is going to be enormously long, because new people will be born and they will get their names in the waiting list. 

Mr. Zanussi, under the topic of Love I can’t but ask you: can we tell about God’s love for the human by means of cinema?

You know, I think some can do it quite properly. The problem is that there have been so few artists who believed in God and His love. We are not short of means of telling about His love, it’s only the number of artists willing to work with this subject, is too small. Even in society as a whole, believers are outmatched, but among artist, especially the ones of the audiovisual genre, believers are just a tiny community sharing the same mindset, which is strange to the majority. That is the problem, I think. 

So, it’s not the problem of cinema, it’s a problem of every specific artist?

Yes, absolutely. Lack of partial people contributes to this problem as well. We witness it particularly in literature. The artists of our generation were mostly believers, as well as all scientists of the Middle ages. Even Newton was rather a theologian, than a physicist. 


But nowadays it’s just the contrary. The problem is that there are not so many theologically sensitive people in this sphere. The audiovisual genre is strange and even adverse to them. I’m deeply worried about that because, when I give lectures, I try to find people who share my mindset. They are scarce, but at times I find a few. 

So, when may I ask you my question? You promised me. 

But unfortunately, our time is almost up.

It won’t take long. No more than a minute. 

Okay, let’s do it now. 

This question is a popular reason for debate between believers and non-believers in the West and it’s related to Mr. Scalfaro’s interview with the Pope, which was conducted in a bit incorrect manner. So, the question is, what about hell? What do we know about it and do we actually need this concept? Decades after the war those horrific crimes are slowly becoming gone beyond recall and we’re entering the phase of so-called “angelic thinking”, like there’s no hell or like it’s empty and there’s no punishment for anyone in the end. How does Orthodoxy see this controversy? 

Well, I don’t think I can represent the vision of Orthodoxy as a whole; a can tell you how I see it for myself. This question is, of course, actual and difficult. I think, the concepts of punishment and reward are one big mystery, and, turning back to the words from your book, I can say, this question is “imbued with the spirit of mystery”. I think, hell, first of all, is inability to be next to the absolute love. For example, imagine a situation, when you do something harsh to somebody, and then he or she says: “I love you so much!”, and you feel you don’t deserve it and it just hurts you to be next to that person. 

It’s good that you feel mystery here. 


The Pope answered in the same way. He said that first of all it’s a mystery. There’s a passage in Gospel, which helps me come to terms with science. It is when Pharisees ask Christ: “What will happen after death? With which of my wives I’ll be in Heaven?” And Christ replied: “Everything will be different there.” It will be something beyond time and space, so the idea of hell is past all our understanding. But it seems like something we should be afraid of. 

Mr. Zanussi, I really don’t want to finish our talk, but as it was said today, all meaningful things must have an ending. So, at the end of our talk I would like to ask you about a series The Young Pope. Some people saw it as an open conversation about faith, as a trigger to attract the attention young people and broad masses to Christianity; others found, it was just a story which had nothing to do with religion. Anyway, there is some provocation in it. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough time to discuss what you think about this series and I don’t really want to do it, in fact, because to me this series is not of particular interest. But my question is: provocation or provocativeness – do you think they may have their place in films about the Church, about Christ, in biblical films? “To provoke or not to provoke” – that is the question. How would you answer it? 

You know, like a poet I would rather…

…avoid answering it? 

…leave it unanswered. Provocation is related to tact and love for another human being. If it leads to letting down or insulting somebody, it is no longer provocation, it’s a disgrace. Provocation can be good when we speak about the secular side of our life, as it can help spice it up. But that’s a different story. 

So, you are not going to give any answer to this question?

Not a single one. 

Dear friends, it was Krzysztof Zanussi. Thank you very much!

Thank you!