The live-action short film from writer and director Tadeusz Lysiak, “The Dress” (also known as “Sukienka”) had its premiere at the 60th Krakow Film Festival in June 2020 and shares a story of a disabled woman (Anna Dzieduszycka) who longs for companionship. After winning numerous Academy Award-qualifying awards, including Best Narrative Short at the 2021 Atlanta Film Festival, the Polish short film has now been shortlisted for the 2022 Oscars. “I wanted to make a universal story about universal emotions,” Lysiak tells Gold Derby in our exclusive video interview (watch above).
The writer-director explains that the short film came about as part of his studies at Warsaw Film School, which requires students to produce a short film with a runtime of around 15 to 30 minutes at the end of each year. “I [wanted] to say something that really interests me in the world,” Lysiak says in regard to how he came up with the principal idea for the film. “I thought about how people often tend to reject others because of their physical appearance,” he continues, accentuating that this is a relevant topic as well as an ongoing problem in Poland. Keen on making a story about “love, loneliness, rejection and desire,” Lysiak ensuingly searched the web and stumbled upon an article about the lives and daily challenges of people of short stature in Poland. This ultimately served as a basis for the story, the specifics of which were also inspired by Dzieduszycka herself, who is of short stature and whom Lysiak had known from other projects.
In the film, lust, sexuality and physicality are the deepest desires Dzieduszycka’s character Julia suppresses while working at a wayside motel. That is until she crosses paths with a handsome truck driver, who soon becomes the objective of her fantasies. In framing Julia and her journey, Lysiak highlights, “We wanted the camera to be really close to [her], to look into [her] eyes and never judge her as society tends to judge people of short stature and other physical characteristics.” This fundamental intention also informs the writer-director’s decision to make Julia a strong character, as opposed to a weak, sad or depressed one. “I wanted her to listen to death metal, to be really straightforward and direct and be just powerful on the inside,” he elaborates.
A central moment in the film is a conversation that occurs between Julia and her colleague Renata (Dorota Pomykala) in which the former pours out the affliction she had hitherto been holding in. Lysiak expounds that he convinced the film’s director of photography, Konrad Bloch, to stay on Renata’s/Pomykala’s face for as much as possible during the scene. He expands, “Renata serves as a kind of mirror to Julia’s emotions and a kind of mirror to viewers’ emotions… It was really important to me to shoot and edit this scene [this particular way] — to stay on another face and to show how [Renata] is trying to understand Julia and how she’s trying to comfort her, but is not able to do so in a perfect way.”
Also in our exclusive video interview, Lysiak discusses the film’s naturalistic look, its divisive ending and his upcoming feature-length film debut. As of this writing, “The Dress” is available to watch on YouTube for a limited period of time.
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