Private Project

These Daughters of Mine

Marta is a successful actress unable to put her life in order. Unlike her domineering sister, Kasia is sensitive and effusive. They’re not keen on each other but an unexpected illness of their mother forces them to cooperate.
Laughter is liberating in this heart-warming and profound story about family relations.

  • Kinga Dębska
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 28 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    August 1, 2015
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
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  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Polish Film Festival
    Gdynia, Poland
    Local Premiere
    Audience Award, Journalists Award, Independent Cinemas Award
  • Rome Film Festival
    Rome, Italy
    International Premiere
  • Frauen Film Tage Wien
    Wien, Austria
    Austrian Premiere
  • Glasgow Film Festival
    Glasgow, Scotland
    Scottish Premiere
  • Vilnius Film Festival
    Vinius, Lithuania
    Lithuanian Premiere
Director Biography - Kinga Dębska

Graduated in film directing at FAMU in Prague, and earlier in Japanese Language and Culture at the University of Warsaw. She has directed over a dozen awarded documentaries, the last of which is full-length film about Elżbieta Czyżewska The Actress. For her feature debut The Rebound she received Best Script award at The Youth and Film Debut Film Festival in Koszalin. These Daughters of Mine is her second full-length feature film, just awarded with public, journalist and local and studio cinemas awards at recent Gdynia Film Festival.

Selected Filmography:
2015 – These Daughters of Mine; The Actress
2009 – The Rebound
2008 – Playing Is What I Like the Most
2007 – Plain Pleasures
2005 – Mixed Couple
2004 – Whisper
2002 – Healers
2001 – The Road, the Truth, the Life

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Director Statement

(an interview)

How did you come up with the title “These Daughters of Mine”?

You will understand when you watch the film. I wanted the title to suggest that the film is about a family, in which something is wrong, where there are some problems. It has nothing to do with the lower-class pathology: they are an average, loving family with a father who sometimes calls his daughters “cows”. Nobody gets offended because they all realize that this is his way to express love. It's not uncommon. I know families, including my own, where kids are never praised or told how great they are, and where love is expressed in a peculiar, indirect way: through taunting, scoffing, mocking and sarcasm. Such behaviour is particularly likely when we deal with a despotic father who gradually gets more and more detached from reality as he is getting older.

The direct inspiration for the screenplay was your personal experience. However, in one of the interviews you said that “truth is no more than a starting point”. How much of the truth is in the film?

Quite a lot. Now that the film is done, I can see how many real-life situations it portrays. I can say that this project was a form of experimenting on myself. Never before had I tackled problems so close to myself and my family. I must stress here again that the actors in my film do not play the members of my family, by no means. My life was just an inspiration but it doesn't literally translate into the film. The film characters are variations on the theme of the modern family. What is absolutely real, though, are the situations the characters face. I found it therapeutic and liberating to see that one might react to traumatic situations in a different way than I did. Before we started shooting, Agata Kulesza asked me whether she should move and behave as I do. I insisted she shouldn't because I wanted us to build the character of Marta together. I didn't want the film to be a copy, or a reflection of reality. It was to be a story, based on facts and on my genuine need to share what is extremely personal, but still a fictitious story.

I must ask about the video footage at the end of the film. Is it from private home archives or was it shot specifically for the film?

Your question is a compliment for DOP Andrzej Wojciechowski, who managed to shoot this retrospective footage in such a believeable manner. For a few months we were looking for girls who looked like Agata and Gabriela. When we finally found them and put their photos on the set among other props, the actors asked how we got their childhood photos. They were really surprised because they'd never given us any photos and the girls were very similar to them. For these scenes, we used a regular video camera to simulate a home video. Then we degraded the edited material at the postproduction stage to make it look like an archive amateur film, shot with an 8mm camera. Unfortunately, Paweł Ziemiński, who played the young father, tragically died in an accident a few days after we shot this material. It's ironic that this pseudo-amateur film turned out to be the last recorded pictures of his life.

Could you say something more about the main characters of the film: the sisters, Marta and Kasia, masterly impersonated by Agata Kulesza and Gabriela Muskała?

Marta, brilliantly played by Agata, is seemingly a strong woman of success. It seems that everything is great with her but in fact nothing is. Her parents' illness and death only make explicit what has long been her problem: emptiness, the feeling of missing something, intimacy deficiency and inability to establish a relationship. Masterly played by Gabriela, Kasia is a complete opposite of Marta. She seems weak and childish, trapped in her imperfect marriage. But her emotional instability and wishful thinking are nothing but a cover, under which she is full of frustrations and unfulfilled desires. Both sisters are contemporary forty-year-olds, who have managed to reach success but are still dissatisfied with their lives. Agata and Gabriela gave their protagonists a lot from themselves: some internal honesty, Chekhovian longing and, most importantly, the sense of humour. I'll never forget it when Agata's protagonist started living her own life, somewhere in the middle of shooting. I realized that the reactions of Marta, the film character, are different than Agata's or mine. I understood that she became a separate, independent being. It was my little private miracle, a kind of revelation, which is a reason why I want to make films.

How did you manage to gather such an exquisite cast?

I showed them the script and they felt it could be something great. Actors want to play but not the same role over and over again. Unfortunately, in Poland actors tend to get similar roles to the ones they played before while in fact both the audience and the actors themselves would love to see them in some new acting challenges. There were many female actors who wanted to play one of the sisters because there is very few so big and complex roles for forty-something women. I feel really lucky that it was Agata and Gabriela who eventually played the two sisters. Casting is based on intuition, or feeling, and you can never be sure what comes out of it. I have this little theory of mine that each person has their own internal quality, a core, something they can be characterised by, which gets clearly visible on the screen, no matter what character they play. And this is something you must consider during casting. There is also the matter of time, the moment in the actor's life. Agata had just finished shooting Ida and she really wanted to play a contemporary role. She was tired but eager to work, which had a great effect on the film. Gabriela, on the other hand, was determined to play a role that matched her great talent. Instead of another supporting role, she wanted to play a fully fledged main part, which was great. It was a clash of ambitions of two outstanding actors, which perfectly matched the plot as the sisters clash in the film too.

How did you get Marian Dziędziel to join the cast?

He came from Krakow for the meeting. We went for a cup of coffee, looked each other in the eyes and... everything was clear. Today I can see that it was a perfect choice. Marian really wanted to play a different role than the ones he had been playing before. Our meeting was short: he said his wife had read the script and that she insisted that he play this role because the script is about him. I asked him whether he would go around the hospital with his butt naked. He was reluctant but eventually agreed. Then he immediately started worrying in advance if he would be able to make it, that it would be difficult – like you know he would. Finally, as an outstanding actor, he created a remarkable character. This is the Dziędziel the viewers have never known. Before we started shooting, Marian consulted a neuropsychologist to enact a person with a growing brain tumour as plausibly as possible. I am really grateful for his courage, support and sense of humour, which he would use to disarm us all. He would go around the set with an old plastic bag, which, as he believed, was his lucky charm. He also had this bag on the set of Smarzowski's The Wedding.

Marcin Dorociński, who plays Kasia's husband: a loser and lazy slacker, appears in a surprising styling. Why did you want him to play such an unusual role for him?

Actually, it was his idea. When he read the script, he decided he wanted to play Grzegorz, who is very different from the characters he had usually played. At first I thought he mixed it up but he really was determined to play something new. Despite his looks and the roles he usually gets, Marcin is not a lover-type by nature. His great comedy talent is clear in my film, I only had to stop him sometimes so that he didn't steel the scenes. Marcin's character was created as early as at the stage of trying makeup and costumes. When we saw him with his fringe greasy, wearing moccasins over socks, we knew we had Grzegorz. During shooting I always felt that he was embarrassed and tired of being a star. I could see how great he felt playing a supporting role. Very often his first double would eventually be the one we used in the film. But even when we shot twenty doubles, he was still the most patient actor on the set. Working with such great actors as Marcin, Agata, Gabriela, or Marta is a pleasure. They know how to suppress their ego, listen to the director's suggestions. They are careful, they think and feel.

Did you face any particularly difficult challenges while making the film? Which of the scenes was the most difficult?

This entire film was an emotional challenge for me, a way to deal with losing my parents, my mourning in a way. When editing was over, I had a feeling of emptiness and started being afraid I might have a depression. I ended up on a psychologist's couch. Only then did I realize that my parents were really gone, also in the figurative sense. When I was making the film, they still felt alive, which might have been a kind of psychological defence mechanism that made me put the mourning off. During shooting I didn't experience any production problems but I'd say that for me Mother's death was harder than any other scene. I didn't cry though. I remember that when Agata played the scene, I turned away from the monitor to face the crew, and I saw everybody cry. But I didn't. I got blocked somehow, like Marta from my film. The scene of the father's night time walk around the hospital, which for the most part was recorded with a steadycam, was quite difficult to shoot. But I like challenges because I believe they help us develop. I'd like to make a great, epic film one day. I know I can. The question is will the decision-makers ever give such a chance to a woman who has been making auteur films. I don't want to end up labelled “that woman who makes films about difficult issues”.

These Daughters of Mine comments on a hard and painful topic, which was addressed in a way that is quite uncommon for Polish films: dramatic situations are sprinkled with a decent dose of humour. How did you come up with the idea to tell the story this way?

It must be my attitude towards the reality. I tend to worry too much but I often put a clown mask on because I don't want to saddle anybody with my internal dramas. What I like in the cinema, literature and theatre is when tragedy intertwines with comedy, making us laugh through tears. Laughter is liberating. I believe that the story of These Daughters of Mine would be too heavy and overwhelming if I'd made it a psychological drama. As my Czech master Jiří Menzel advised, tragedy is best told through comedy because humans are tragicomic by nature. After all, how insignificant we are when viewed from a higher perspective? Everybody knows that it's not going to end well: death is sure so it might be better to use these moments we have been given and laugh as much as we can. As Marta puts it in one scene “this life is nothing but a short moment”.

Marta's adult daughter was played by your daughter. Is Maria going to become a professional actor?

Maria is in the fourth year of acting in Łódź Film School where she's now preparing with Grzegorz Wiśniewski her diploma performance Maria Stuart, and she's playing the main role there. I thought she'd be a musician but she dropped the studies at her first year in the Musical Academy. She decided she didn't want to be a pianist because she doesn't want to be alone all the time, practice alone, perform alone. But I think it can prove very useful for her: an actor who can play the piano so well is a rare treat. Although it may look like nepotism, I wanted her to play the main heroine's daughter from the very beginning. She is a young actor and, what is more, she went through a similar experience with me. I felt that playing this role may help her deal with losing her grandparents. Her image perfectly fitted the role too. My only concern was that she might transfer to the set the relationship we have at home. It turned out that I needn't have worried. Maria found her way just fine and she even came up with a scene: the one where she hugs her sleeping mother in a desperate attempt to get some portion of tenderness.

Along with the official premiere of the film, your book based on the script will be released. Could you tell us something more about it?

Before I started writing the script, I had been writing a journal. It was when it all was happening, when my parents were dying. After I finished making the film, a publishing house contacted me, offering publishing a book about the situation from the film but developed in a deepened and broadened manner. They even offered a ghost writer but I refused. Obviously, I was afraid a bit as it was my literary debut but fortunately, I got an experienced editor to work with, who gave me a lot of support. Her idea was to write the book in the form of two parallel journals of the two sisters. Particular events look very different from the two perspectives, sometimes being even mutually contradictory. This way the book, still maintaining the intimacy of the film, shows how wrong we can be when we one-sidedly judge a situation. The writing process helped me better understand my sister: I saw the situation from her perspective and understood that she is my opposite and that without her I wouldn't be who I am. Pompous as it may sound, after the wave of hatred, grievance, incomprehension, only when I was writing the book did I understand how much I love and need my sister.