Tricks tells the story of Stefek, a 6 year old boy who challenges fate. He believes that the chain of events he sets in motion will help him get closer to his father, who abandoned his mother. His sister Elka, 17, helps him learn how to “bribe” fate with small sacrifices. Tricks and coincidences eventually bring the father to the mother’s doorstep, but things go wrong. In despair Stefek tries his good luck with the most risky of his tricks…
Andrzej Jakimowski, director of Tricks, began his career by directing short features and documentaries and co-founded the Association of Artists and Artisans and his own film company, where he produced his feature debut “Squint Your Eyes” (2002/3). The film won numerous prizes and honorary mentions at home and abroad.
Jakimowski’s subsequent feature was the segment entitled “Bag” in “Solidarnosc, Solidarnosc” (Solidarity, Solidarity) (2005). This was followed by 2007’s “Sztuczki ” (Tricks) which was selected as the Polish Oscar entry for 2007/2008. “Tricks” confirms Jakimowski’s
status as one of Poland’s most accomplished up-and-coming contemporary film-makers. The film has won awards at more 20 festivals and has been distributed in about 30 countries—it premiered at last year’s Venice Film Festival where it won the Label Europa Cinemas prize and Laterna Magica prize, as well as the Golden Lion at the Polish Film Festival. Tricks has also won prizes at the Sao Paulo International Film Festival, the Miami International Film Festival and the Tokyo International Film Festival where Damian Ul won Best Actor, amongst others.
Bijan Tehrani: Tricks has a very unique structure. It has a combination of different categories of filmmaking and blending them together seems to be very dangerous, but it works. How have you managed to do this?
Andrzej Jakimowski: I never hesitate to use all means available to show the beauty of the people I have in front of my camera, it doesn’t matter if they are actors or amateurs. Sometimes I cheat them and shoot from a hidden camera, sometimes I torture them with exercises months before shooting. So there is a kind of documentary observation and improvisation mixed with deliberate and precise professional work. But I only want to show people as they are. I like them as they are. I think there is no risk in such a way of working, because true behavior is always interesting; same with structure and story. If there are true feelings and observations in the film, it doesn’t matter how we show them and how we combine techniques to show them.
Bijan: How did you come up with the story of Tricks? Was it from any personal experience? The story of Tricks has the taste of New Realist Italian Cinema and Colombia’s Magic realism, what do you think?
Andrzej: Half of the story is stolen from my life. It’s the relationship of a little boy and his teenage sister who takes care of him. Another half of the story is stolen from the life of somebody else; it is the relationship of a father and his abandoned children.
That’s nice to hear that the story tastes a little bit like an old movie. I did my best to achieve that. This is my reaction to modern cinema. Quicker and quicker story telling, nonstop action, handheld cameras, and video clip kind of cutting are no longer fresh for me. I’m impressed if somebody keeps my attention for some time without moving the camera or cutting. That’s why things which seem to be old-fashioned are often really fresh for me. Same with what movies talk about. I’m no longer impressed with violence, sex and depressing dose of truth about life. I’m impressed with delicate and positive view of life and I appreciate a sense of humor.
Bijan: Damian Ul’s performance as the little boy Stefek is magical. How did you find Damian and how did you work with him?
Andrzej: Damian has been chosen out of 400 boys. That was probably the most I work I did concerning him. I didn’t work very much with him later. He is very clever and he found immediately that I do not accept pretending anything. Since that time we didn’t even talk about his acting. But he understood very well what the film is about because his father abandoned him and his mother in real life.
Bijan: Other actors in the film are also great, how did you go about casting the film?
Andrzej: There was a team of people who helped me find the right actors. I shot a lot of improvised scenes with candidates. I often mix professionals and nonprofessional in test shooting. The outcome is often unexpected and I usually found talents in both groups. That’s why there is a mixture of professionals and amateurs in my films. One good thing about that is that actors always try to match the natural behavior of amateurs, who do not act, but just are themselves.
Bijan: There are elements in the film that are repeatedly used and act like characters themselves, such as cars, trains and birds. Was this in the script from the start or did you emphasize these during shooting the film and its editing?
Andrzej: Both—it was the script from the start but some elements did not work and we cut them later, for example the ’69 Mustang. The best scene with this legendary and meaningful car was not good enough and I cut it.
Bijan: How challenging was making of the Tricks?
Andrzej: There is no way to get to know whether a child that never acted before will be good in the main role until the first shots are done. No test filming can help. But once the shooting is started, it is too late to change the main actor. So everything is put at risk, like in real gambling. This is veru challenging. With amateurs in the three main roles—two of them had never acted before—“Tricks” was challenging for me as a director and producer.
Bijan: How has “Tricks” been doing at film festivals and public screenings?
Andrzej: I think the film is doing well. It’s amazing for me that it appeals to people in so many different countries on all continents. We won many awards. Thanks to the great response from the audience in the festivals, “Tricks” has been sold in about 30 territories for theatrical distribution and is doing well in theaters. We have no distributor in the US yet, but I know from public screenings that cinemagoers in America like this film too.
Bijan: Is making another film after such a great and beautiful movie difficult? What is your next project?
Andrzej: My next script is in the making. It’s a simple story which, like all my films, makes people laugh and cry. We have a Polish saying for this: laugh through tears.