Zdzisław Najmrodzki, who died in 1995, was one of the most infamous Polish criminals of the communist period. Called the “King of Thieves” and “Master of Escapes,” he evaded pursuit 29 times. Once, he jumped out of the window of a slow-moving train, claiming he saw a stork and felt the call of freedom. But Mateusz Rakowicz’s “The Getaway King,” which will be playing in the main competition at EnergaCamerimage Film Festival this week, isn’t sticking too close to the facts.
“As a historical figure, Najmrodzki is no hero,” says DP Jacek Podgórski. “At that time, everyone was afraid of the militia, so escaping them 29 times was a feat. But it says more about them than it does about him. One time, he simply got them drunk. We expanded the myth and basically reinvented it.”
Podgórski used his father’s old photographs as a reference, deciding to incorporate their reddish tinge into the film. As well as postcards depicting the “Golden Era” of the Polish People’s Republic.
“There were whole groups of people, all photographing Polish cities in the exact same way: They always looked clean, the sky was clear, there were no homeless people around and no drunks in the streets,” he says.
“I remember these times. I remember standing in line as this ‘extra person’ to buy toilet paper because in order to get more, you had to come with a child. But this time, harsh reality was just not important to us.”
Full of references and nostalgia (“People are rewinding tapes with a pencil here. Everyone used to do it,” he says), “The Gateway King” was always supposed to be entertainment first, says Podgórski, slowly morphing from a heist movie into romantic action comedy.
“As our lead actor Dawid Ogrodnik says at the end, there must be love in the film. And there is. We meet ‘Najmro’ at the height of his popularity. He has everything, but he doesn’t have love. It will make him grow up,” he says.
“There’s a lot going on in the film, also visually, and not everyone will buy it of course. But it was always supposed to be eye candy,” he adds.
“This was not the time to limit myself. I needed some nonchalance in order to pull this off, that ‘I don’t give a damn’ attitude that Najmrodzki had. Today, it’s hard to impress anyone with an image. But we are talking about a time when you actually didn’t need much to make an impression: Just a closet full of suits, some good shirts and a gold watch.”
“The Gateway King,” produced by TFP, will be distributed in Poland by Dystrybucja Mówi Serwis.
Podgórski, who is currently shooting Netflix’s series “Barbarians” in Kraków with director Lennart Ruff, will reunite with Rakowicz on an action film. “We feel we have a lot more to offer,” he says.
“I don’t know how I got here. I feel a bit ashamed,” says Podgórski, who already won a Bronze Tadpole at Camerimage for a short, “The Body of Mine,” which he also directed. In 2018, he lensed “The Mute” by Bartosz Konopka, set in early Middle Ages.
“It gained some popularity at genre film festivals, where it was basically viewed as a horror film. It’s interesting when the reception is so different,” he adds. Just like in the case of Paul Schrader’s “Forever Mine,” shown at the Polish festival back in 1999. “People saw it as a pastiche and he was just following the conventions of the genre. He wasn’t happy, because the audience was laughing and he made a serious film. Films that follow conventions are generally not well respected and this whole situation has taught me a lot,” he says.
“The most important thing is that we are not pretending to be something we are not. I’m glad ‘The Getaway King’ is here, but it’s being mentioned alongside ‘The Last Duel’ or ‘Dune’ and that’s just insane. For a viewer outside Poland, it will be completely exotic,” he laughs.
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