Patrycja Płanik’s first lead role in a feature film saw her embark on a nine month journey across America. A task made all the more daunting (or intriguing) by the fact the Warsaw-based visual artist worked with a skeletal film crew and without a script.
The film – Andreas Horvath’s Lillian – brings the remarkable true story of Lillian Alling into the modern day as Płanik plays an American emigrant who decides to walk back to her home in Russia.
Płanik joins us on Close-up Culture to talk about this incredible experience, loosing herself in the Lillian character, working with Horvath, and much more.
Q: What was your initial reaction when you heard about Andreas’ project and this dialogue-less character?
A: I was curious. I thought this character might be very interesting to reflect on. Building a language without a vocabulary is fascinating. I have always been a kind of “walker”. And I like my silent mode and a world of simplicity. So I felt – this is it. I wanna walk with her. There was something strong and at the same time evanescent in Lillian’s character that merely silence could convey.
Also, I was truly convinced of the vision behind this film. Andreas sent me his treatment. He cited paintings of Pieter Bruegel, Caspar David Friedrich, Herzog films. He drew an intriguing perspective in front of me. The idea was distinctive, and it never disappointed me.
Q: How did you prepare for this role? Did you delve much into the story of Lillian Alling?
A: From the very beginning I felt familiar with Lillian. I started to study her journey but at some point I realised that we need to separate. Lillian Alling was traveling almost 100 years ago, today the world is completely different but her story is still relevant. She became the starting point for building a universal tale about searching for your identity, about a slow disappearance and becoming part of nature.
I was always trying to understand the gravity of her situation, her long journey, her solitude, at the same time treasuring it. She gave me a path but I chose my own landscapes.
Q: How did you approach playing Lillian when the shoot began? Did your background in dance and photography help with bringing out the physicality of this character?
A: At some point I don’t remember playing in this film. I decided to channel Lillian and I wanted to experience this journey for myself. I was consuming it as a visual artist all the time. I did a lot of photography and video. The idea of the mirror it’s a key part of photography, and I was observing and reflecting reality around me.
Right before the casting for Lillian I was working with a 89 years old butoh dancer, Daisuke Yoshimoto, in Japan. He doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Japanese, yet we still did a 30 minute opening film for a theatre performance without much words.
Working in the dance field gave me a consciousness of building a dramaturgy using my movement. But my language in the film was always very intuitive and connected to the uniqueness of every place we were staying at.
Apart from all the experiences of my life, I think when you jump into such a whimsical
journey like this, it changes you, you discover a new access to yourself. A different bearing.
Q: You were working without a script. Can you give us insight into your collaboration with Andreas and what is was like working with this level of freedom/lack of a clear direction?
A: Not knowing sounds like a beautiful beginning. Andreas had a view where he wanted to take this film through his experience with having photographed and filmed the United States before. But the heart of our film was always beating within the mystery of the journey. I am a “process” person. I like to get lost in it. I felt partnership. I trusted Andreas but as well myself.
Our crew consisted of only five people. Small, chamber journey. I always thought it’s better to seek out questions than answers in this process. And there were always plenty of questions coming. It’s demanding but also a very fulfilling way of working, because you need to be focused all the time. For me that was it.
Q: What did you learn about yourself from playing Lillian and being involved in this nine month shoot?
A: I learned that I belong to myself.
Q: What will be your lasting memory of your time in America working on this project?
A: I wouldn’t know what to choose. People were so generous with their stories, so open-hearted. I fell in love with the American province. The small communities, the dusty roads, little bars, local businesses, flee markets, diners, motels and trailers…
The nature is so flabbergasting. I won’t ever forget the taste of the melted snow in Alaska. Watching the salmon run, the northern lights, listening to the freezing up Yukon River. And I won’t ever forget the moment when I had to leave my Lillian. My travel through North America lasted nine months, my flight back to Poland was only nine hours. If necessary I could have continued.
Q: How did you find the experience of going to Cannes and engaging with critics and audiences?
A: I wasn’t aware of what Cannes is. It was a wave of experiences for me, and it’s still surprising me. I remember the sharp and flickering energy there. So many interesting conversations, honest curiosity. A very special celebration of cinema and the joy of this celebration. Respecting the tough work of filmmaking. It was a pleasure and I felt honoured that our premiere was there.
Q: What is next for you? Any ambitions or plans to share?
A: I go with the assumption that what is supposed to be – will be. The possibility of appearing in this film was one of the most beautiful experiences in my life. Lillian was my first and only role that I did so far. I wanna help my luck and look for other paths to develop myself in this direction.
I’m still doing my photography, working on films, and theatre as a video artist. I like when my life surprises me. I’m a natural risk – taker. So who knows, maybe tomorrow I will hit the road with a small backpack, wearing my favourite dress, the wind in my hair, and my heart open for the unknown.