King of the road

Lena Góra and Michal Chmielewski on Wim Wenders and Roving Woman

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Lena Góra discussing an early cut of Roving Woman with Michal Chmielewski, John Hawkes, Chris Hanley, and Orian Williams: “I remember we sat down and said to each other: ‘Maybe we should show this movie to Wim Wenders? Maybe he will give us a note or two?’ And I sent him an email then.
Lena Góra discussing an early cut of Roving Woman with Michal Chmielewski, John Hawkes, Chris Hanley, and Orian Williams: “I remember we sat down and said to each other: ‘Maybe we should show this movie to Wim Wenders? Maybe he will give us a note or two?’ And I sent him an email then. Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Michal Chmielewski’s Roving Woman, co-written by its star/producer Lena Góra and co-produced with John Hawkes (Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and Supporting Actor Oscar-nominee for Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone), executive produced by Wim Wenders and Orian Williams, and shot by Łukasz Dziedzic, is another highlight of the 21st edition of the Tribeca Film Festival.

Lena Góra with Michal Chmielewski: “Michal allowed us to improvise within a structure.”
Lena Góra with Michal Chmielewski: “Michal allowed us to improvise within a structure.”

In the first instalment with Lena Góra and Michal Chmielewski we discuss the significant impact of Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas, Wings Of Desire), Harry Dean Stanton, Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, and Tom Waits. I reference a Joan Didion quote, Truman Capote’s Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Samuel Beckett’s Molloy, and a comment made about David Bowie and Marc Bolan in Ethan Silverman’s incisive Angelheaded Hipster: The Songs Of Marc Bolan & T. Rex.

At the start of Roving Woman, Sara (Lena Góra) has a PJ Harvey Rid of Me overnight outburst that drives her into going on the road. Wearing a long, slinky evening dress that was popular in the Nineties of the last century and white high heels, Sara is forcibly removed, pushed out the door from the place where she was staying by a man who clearly wants nothing to with her anymore.

“I’m his muse,” Sara tells the neighbour, and that they were together for six years, as he, Brian (Brian McGuire) gives her a lift out of the neighbourhood. Before we know it, Sara is stealing a car and drives off into the desert. As she discovers the objects the car’s owner (John Hawkes) left there, she is intrigued by the CDs “for Mimi” and the story of Connie Converse, a singer who disappeared in the Seventies.

Like a fairy-tale heroine who disguises herself in ashes and dirt or wears animal skins before becoming herself as a human being, Sara’s encounters lead her where she was meant to roam. In a rundown motel, the owner (Ed Mattiuzzi) tells her the story of his mother and the six chickens replacing a dog. Her own mother is not interested in a reunion.

Lena Góra as Sara in Michal Chmielewski’s Roving Woman
Lena Góra as Sara in Michal Chmielewski’s Roving Woman

Sara joins a jolly couple living in a camper. Crissie (Crystal Rivers) is in a wheelchair and gifts her a brownish lipstick; her husband Floyd (Bear Bardeaux) carries her in and out of their home on wheels in the desert. She gives a lift to a hitchhiking producer (Chris Hanley) in disguise, and Sara ultimately solves one of the many riddles of aloneness posed by this languid, intoxicating, at times rattling road movie.

From different locations in Brooklyn, Lena Góra and Michal Chmielewski joined me on Zoom for an in-depth conversation on Roving Woman which started with Wim Wenders and the synchronicity of influences.

Anne-Katrin Titze: I saw that Wim Wenders is an executive producer on your film. I’ve known Wim for many years and have done many conversations. I can see some of his spirit in your story. How did it come about that Wim was involved in the film?

Lena Góra: I always feel that I’m dreaming, telling this story. There’s a very long story to all this. At the end of having shot our film, having raw footage of it and a very early cut of it, we landed some of our biggest idols to join us.

Harry Dean Stanton with Paris, Texas co-star Nastassja Kinski and Wim Wenders
Harry Dean Stanton with Paris, Texas co-star Nastassja Kinski and Wim Wenders Photo: Tom Farrell

Which is John Hawkes, Chris Hanley, and eventually Orian Williams. I remember we sat down and said to each other: “Maybe we should show this movie to Wim Wenders? Maybe he will give us a note or two?” And I sent him an email then.

There’s a whole story of how I found that email, but I tried to ask as respectfully as I can, if it would be okay for him to watch it. That alone would have been a lot for us. Not only did he watch it, he showed great understanding of everything that we had created and from then on a lot of support as well.

AKT: That’s a nice story.

Michal Chmielewski: I had also this feeling that Wim is from the same kind of tribe. Because our movie is a road movie. For us he’s like the king of the road movie genre. I had this big feeling that he would understand our movie, the pace and the emotions therein. The music as well. So we had a lot of things in common.

AKT: The guardian angel of road movies?

LG: You know, in the email I had sent him, I said to him “Dear Sir Wim, anyone attempting to touch on the road movie genre, in my opinion should run their movie by you.” He responded saying something like: I don’t own the road movie genre, I owe to the road movie genre, therefore I watch it. He’s so classy.

Harry Dean Stanton with Hunter Carson in Paris, Texas
Harry Dean Stanton with Hunter Carson in Paris, Texas

AKT: Classy, poetic and also funny in a way.

LG: That’s exactly who he is and Michal mentioning tribe - I don’t like the word tribe because it has a lot of random connotations, but similar minds. People who no matter where they are in the world who have similar inspirations.

Same thing happened with John Hawkes. Turns out his three favourite things are Harold and Maude, the book On the Road and Tom Waits’s music, which was pretty much exactly what Michal told me when we met.

It was almost incredible, we all live all over the world and it seems we came across the same artists, the same poems, the same food probably. Brian McGuire, who plays the guy [Brian] who drives me to Palmdale, he directed a movie with Harry Dean Stanton [Sick of It All] who of course played in Paris, Texas by Wim. It made me realize something is up with having such a similar way of seeing things, as everyone involved in this movie has.

AKT: I also noticed some other California angels floating around. “I tell myself a story” - that echoes Joan Didion’s famous line “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

Sara’s (Lena Góra) encounters lead her where she was meant to roam.
Sara’s (Lena Góra) encounters lead her where she was meant to roam.

LG: Very nice. The same thing happened with Wim when he watched the movie. He responded with a list of quotes that he had sort of noticed. In Sara’s words and other people’s words, very much like Wings of Desire, there’s so much food for thought in what characters say.

Michal allowed us to improvise within a structure. Like the quote you just recognized, I wasn’t even aware of that. Wim also had a list of things that I say that resonated with what he had watched and read. It was really incredible.

AKT: That sounds like a good list. It makes me curious about his list, because I do have my own list that spans from Breakfast at Tiffany’s with the dress at the beginning to Molloy, Beckett, to a film that is also in Tribeca this year on Marc Bolan, called Angelheaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan & T. Rex. There is a moment recalling how David Bowie and Marc Bolan were fishing clothes out of dumpsters. You are both in New York - did you hear about the Lou Reed exhibition, Lou Reed: Caught Between The Twisted Stars?

Lena Góra on Wim Wenders: “He responded with a list of quotes that he had sort of noticed. In Sara’s words and other people’s words …”
Lena Góra on Wim Wenders: “He responded with a list of quotes that he had sort of noticed. In Sara’s words and other people’s words …” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

LG: Yes, but I haven’t seen it yet! It’s been a marathon. Two years we had been working on this movie, day and night in the studio with the most incredible team of people who are real artists. Since we came to New York, the amount of beautiful things like this that feel really like something we haven’t been used to for a while. We had no timeout for anything that could feed our soul, like a great exhibition - that is very painful. In a couple of days we hopefully can escape it all and feed our souls more.

AKT: It will do that. I was at the press preview and did a feature on it. Don’t miss out on the exhibition.

LG: You’re so wonderful! Whenever you speak with Wim or Donata next, please tell him that we love him so much!

Coming up - Michal Chmielewski and Lena Góra on the road for Roving Woman.

Roving Woman is available for viewing on the Tribeca Film Festival At Home platform through June 26.

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