The wild side

Daria Woszek on femininity, tradition, menopause and Marygoround

by Jennie Kermode

Marygoround Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia

This year’s Fantasia International Film Festival is notable for including a number of films about the life experiences and sexual identities of women in their fifties and up, a subject that has long been neglected by mainstream cinema. Among the standouts is Daria Woszek’s Marygoround (known as Maryjki in its native Poland) which tells the story of Maria (Grazyna Misiorowska), a grocery store clerk who experiences an intense sexual awakening when she is prescribed hormone treatment for menopause, causing her to question a great many things about her life. Although English is not her first language and no translator was available, Daria bravely agreed to discuss the film, including the complex ways that it uses symbolic imagery and its protagonist’s fantasies to explore issues around femininity and how older women are shaping their lives within and, sometimes, in opposition to today’s world.

She has roots in theatre, she explains, and always like theatre about everyman characters. She also sees Maria as the opposite of a conventional heroine in that “She’s perfect as she is right now. She’s a complete character but in some way reaching this magical border, reaching menopause, makes her ask questions about her identity once again, about her femininity, about her choices in life. So we start with a complete character and during the journey she’s falling apart, just to reunite herself in a totally different way.

“It is a taboo, and it is something like a big, bad wolf waiting in the woods, this menopause topic. In our society we think that women reaching menopause or after menopause are just transparent in society. For me, it was a shocking experience when I talked to my mum and to Grazyna, my lead, and other actors and artists, they told me that in some ways this is a very liberating time in their lives. They don’t have to be in the role of a lover or a mother. There is a time for you to experience truly yourself, your identity. You as you, as a human being. You’re no longer defined by these biological structures.

“This movie is kind of a letter to future me. It’s never too late to experiment, to shape your life the way you want it, to live it, to have it. That’s why I chose this kind of character. You have her alter-go in Helena [Helena Sujecka), her young, vibrant niece, but at some point she’s still the same person. I mean. I was trying to capture this femininity because it’s something between these two different values, right? From the contradiction, the saint and the sinner in a woman.”

She reflects on the Greek ideal of femininity in the Bacchanal. “You have this wild – totally strange for others – side of sexual femininity. This is a part of our identity but we don’t want to talk about it, we don’t want to think about it, and now I think that we are – especially in Poland – we are talking only about this one ‘right’ side of it, that you should be a good mother, a good wife, very Catholic, very devoted to your family, to your man. And now I have my protagonist, a very independent woman who doesn’t want men in her life, and she’s quite good with her choices.”

We agree that the film is a sort of later-life coming-of-age movie, concentrated into a very short period of time – and that, at the end (and not to give too much away), the heroine discovers that she’s good as she was. We then discuss the very striking visual imagery in the film, from colour choices to flowers and the religious artefacts that Maria has collected, including a small statue of the Virgin Mary that she carries around early on as if to protect herself.

“Those figurines are like the Vestal Virgins from ancient times,” she says. “The name Maryjki means the same thing because in Poland it’s the folklore way to think about the Virgin Mary. In this case the Virgin Mary is really warm and taking care of things, she’s like the mother to us. So it’s not so connected with Catholic beliefs. She’s closer to people.”

This, she says, is why she gave the film its Polish title, Maryjki.

“Maria’s figurines are abandoned and most of them are really cracked,” she notes. “So it’s also a symbol of a totally different kind of femininity which is not so popular right now... I wanted to make the femininity real and sensual by way of the colours, the different kind of music, by playing with sound, by playing with the imaginary world which is created by her, with this Harlequin story. She’s like the protagonist in her own story.

“I wanted to mix all these ingredients to feel this femininity which, in my opinion, is very colourful and wild and crazy and naive and sweet and cruel at the same time.”

I tell her that I like the way that Maria goes into a space that isn’t real in order to find out something real about herself.

“This is kind of like women’s language,” she says. “Through these fantasies we are more connected with our unconsciousness. It’s the language of the heart, not the language of common sense.”

How did she find her leading actress and draw such a fine performance out of her?

“It’s her début on the silver screen. She’s a very well known theatre actress and I’ve known her since my theatre studies. So I kind of grew up with her. We became friends and it was really interesting because I learned a lot from her. It was really good to mix [film] set work with this method from the theatre. She’s really Maria, you know? She’s not playing, she’s just her.

“At some point when we were writing the screenplay we wrote it exclusively for her. It is based on her, with some of her ideas, because she has a really great sense of humour. I think it was a great journey for me and for her because Marygoround is my début also.”

Humour is important in the pacing of the film, she says, and because it makes it possible to be closer to the characters.

Making a film like this in the current political climate in Poland has not been easy.

“One of my friends told me that it could be a bit scandalous in Poland because of religious beliefs. The most important thing is that Marygoround is totally against this Catholic mindset. Maria is doing what she wants to do and maybe at some point men in Poland could feel frustrated about that, that maybe they don’t know really well their wives and daughters. Because there is some dark side of our nature which is completely denied by the government and now by the traditional culture.

“It’s not so easy because our religion right now is kind of our culture and tradition, so it’s really hard to talk about a different kind of femininity right now. Feminists are like the worst evil right now for this family-orientated, right-wing political view.” She laughs.

Internationally, things are looking better for her, and she’s excited to have had her film selected by Fantasia.

“I was growing up watching horror thriller movies. I was raised watching Asian hardcore gore movies, so yeah, it’s really interesting and I’m excited because it’s my international première and it’s going to be my first meeting with an audience, so I’m extremely curious about their impressions, opinions, and yeah, it will be really fun to meet with the audience after the screenings, so I’m really, really excited!”

She’s now working on two further projects connected with female sexuality in different ways, one of them a more historical story and one a modern story about growing up and experimenting with femininity to try and find a way of navigating or resisting cultural and social roles.

“I guess I will stick with this topic... There are not many films about female experience from a female perspective.”

Marygoround is screening at Fantasia on Tuesday 25 and Monday 31 August.

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