Jan P. Matuszynski interview: ‘Leave No Traces’ director
Poland’s entry for Best International Feature Film at the 94th Academy Awards, “Leave No Traces,” tells the true story of Grzegorz Przemyk, a high school student who was beaten to death by police in 1983 communist Poland. The only witness of the beating becomes the number one enemy of the state. The film is directed by Jan P. Matuszynski and is based on the book of the same name written by Cezary Łazarewicz.
“After the communist regime ended in Poland, the government opened some of the archives,” Matuszynski explains while discussing how he became attached to the project. “People could go and see what really happened in the 80s and that’s one of the stories. Of course, it’s also because of the witness who saw it all. He’s the main character of ‘Leave No Traces.’ For me, this story is symbolic. It’s a crime against humanity. It’s hard to cope with that kind of thing. I got this book in 2017. That was kind of a different time in the world in Poland. When I was going through this book I had this feeling that this is something that can happen just around the corner. If I can do a film about it, cinema is the only tool I’ve got. I don’t want it to happen again.”
Matuszynski was also well aware that this film could be met with backlash within Poland. “It’s always a risk,” he explains. “When you’re taking up a true story you have to cope with this being your interpretation and only yours. This is a story that happened almost 40 years ago, but there are people on both sides of the barricade that are still alive and we have to deal with that. The beating part in ‘Leave No Traces’ was a tragedy, but it gets worse when everything becomes political. And everything is political nowadays. I knew that this was tricky, but I didn’t have a choice. I thought this was something I could tell on the big screen.”
The length and complexity of the story had Matuszynski debating with producers on whether the historical drama should be a TV series or a film. “We decided very early on that it has to be a film because it’s so important,” he reveals. “It’s multi-layered, it’s complex, but that’s how I wanted it to be. It’s all about bringing truth out into the world.”
“Leave No Traces” was the recipient of the Silver Lions Award for Best Feature Film at this year’s Polish Film Festival.