His debut, a harrowing documentary „Evolution” was awarded on various international documentary festivals, including San Francisco International Film Festival. Polish moviegoers known Lankosz primarily for his feature movies – his dark comedy about Stalinism „Reverse” (2009) was the Polish official entry for the Academy Award. His thriller “A Grain of Truth”, where the phantoms of medieval antisemitism seem to reappear in a contemporary small Polish town, was a box office hit of 2015.
Breaking up horror with humor has been his motto ever since his feature debut, the widely acclaimed “The Reverse”. He decided to become a film director when as a teen in the late 1980s he watched Roman Polański retrospective
He admits that Anton Chekhov is one of his favorite playwrights. Why? Because the world of his plays is never black-and-white – it contains every shade of grey for attentive readers or viewers. And even when it seems that there is no hope, a ray of sunshine still finds its way in through a crack in the door. A comedy set in the gloomy Stalinist period? Why not!
The Reverse blends absurd humor with powerfully lyrical scenes; the inescapable terror of the times slips seamlessly into a film noir pastiche. Nothing is obvious here, the next unpredictable sequence can launch us into yet another cinematic realm. Not just the audience of the Gdynia Film Festival was won over by this whimsical approach – we were all suddenly confronted with the idea that a movie so different from Polish traditions and yet so very Polish could be made in our country. The Reverse dropped the conventions of cinema of historical clarification, yet was rooted in the most powerful of national traditions – the Polish film school as epitomized by Munk, Stawiński, and Wajda.
“The Reverse” blends absurd humor with powerfully lyrical scenes; the inescapable terror of the times slips seamlessly into a film noir pastiche
Born to an eminent Krakow family, it seemed that he would grow up to become a pianist; his psychologist mother boasted about pushing her son toward art. Now, Lankosz mostly appreciates his parents’ lack of interference – he was allowed to have his fascinations and freely indulge in the various passions of his youth. Lankosz studied piano at a music school; a fine player, he nevertheless knew that there were better pianists. While he jumped some musical hurdles in 6th grade and others took even longer, there were people who could play the same things 3 years earlier. The boy sensed that he could become a decent musician – but merely one of many.
It was then that Roman Polański changed his life, though music remains very important to Lankosz. He used to dabble in jazz improvisation together with his friend Abel Korzeniowski, now an acclaimed composer living full-time in the United States (unlike Lankosz, who returned to Poland after a stay in America). They greatly enjoyed their musical experimentation and the piano retained a place of honor in the Lankosz household. The director channels external issues into playing Chopin, Bach, rock standards, and jazz – but only as a hobby, after hours. Why? Just because as a teen in the late 1980s he once checked the TV schedule and caught a movie aired late one Friday night as part of a Roman Polański retrospective.
Having watched one, he waited to see the rest. “It was like a knock to the head,” he recounted. “I encountered a total work of art made by a genius. I fell in love with the cinema and instantly knew what I wanted to do in life: make movies, not play an instrument. Fascination with Polański grips me to this day, I’ve read his autobiography in English before it was translated into Polish. I suppose that my interest in Polish-Jewish relations, noticeable in my documentaries Radegast and Obcy VI, as well as the feature A Grain of Truth, resulted from studying the biography and wartime experiences of the author of Chinatown.”
His enchantment with Polański was later supplemented by the greatest works of Milos Forman and Stanley Kubrick, along with an appreciation of genre films that transcend the boundaries of conventions, embodied by the movies of Peter Weir and Alan Parker. Lankosz still hasn’t shed his almost childlike fascination with the cinema – he watches almost everything, though sometimes has to put off seeing new releases due to professional duties, and gladly returns to his old favorites.
Lankosz first stepped on set at the age of 9, cast in the leading role of a TV series – Sześć milionów sekund. As the show was being produced in Katowice, the young Borys and his mother moved there for a year. He recalls it as a traumatic experience – living in a hotel room, studying with a tutor after every shooting day to keep up with his school’s program, and still having to make time for piano practice – but admits that he most likely had caught the film bug during that period. It stayed with him ever since.
Once he was sure of his course for the future, Lankosz began making amateur VHS films. One of these, Oczami dziecka, followed Stella Müller-Madej, a Holocaust survivor from Schindler’s list. It took four attempts for him to be admitted to Lodz Film School. Though these failures made him miserable, Lankosz kept busy, spending a year each at the departments of art history and film studies at Jagiellonian University, then studying production at the Faculty of Radio and Television at the University of Silesia in Katowice, where he collaborated with direction and cinematography students on their student films.
“I follow my internal radar. Being honest with yourself is key: you have to find your subject and the right conditions”
When his long-awaited dream of film school came true, it brought boredom and disappointment.”The only memorable experiences were meeting Wojciech Jerzy Has and Grzegorz Królikiewicz,” Lankosz recalls. “The former seemed to me a true Old Master in the Renaissance sense of the term; he was, in a way, magical. The latter wasn’t easy to be around, but he taught us teamwork – an important skill.”
There had been sixteen students in his first year; only three of them made it till the end – Lankosz, Małgorzata Szumowska, and Łukasz Barczyk. They learned from each other. “It was incredible,” Lankosz repeats. “I owe more to Małgorzata and Łukasz than to the professors: there was a continuous give-and-take, endless debates, brainstorms, watching each other’s footage.”
His thesis film, Evolution, gained acclaim and won numerous awards, but it stirred controversies at the Film School. Kazimierz Karabasz even called it unethical – it was contrary to his understanding of documentaries. Lankosz’s friend, director and cinematographer Maciej Koszałka, took him to the nursing home at Ojców. They drove through the wintry landscape and arrived there at dusk, when the patients’ antipsychotic medications were wearing off.
As Lankosz recalls, he saw horrifying scenes, but couldn’t empathize with these people. He felt removed from that situation: “We drove back to Krakow in silence. I felt I couldn’t handle the things I’d seen. The city suddenly loomed ahead of us like an illusionary metropolis – and I knew that I would return to Ojców with a camera to tell these people’s stories, to get closer to them.” And he did, visiting the nursing home many times over the course of three years. He still considers his work on Evolution a lesson – of life and humanity, not filmmaking. It was then that he realized he wanted to stand by his protagonists, to change people’s minds with movies – his own movies, standing on the side of the angels.
Lankosz remains faithful to these ideas. He covered Polish Jews in Radegast, a documentary about the Łódź ghetto scripted by Andrzej Bart, and Obcy VI produced for the 30 minut TV show. In Errol’s Record he showed a Zimbabwean hoping to break the Guinness world record for the longest speech without breaks, while Kurc followed a Szczecin man on a solitary journey to China to escape social degradation.
This path led Lankosz to The Reverse, which turned out to be the voice Polish cinema had been waiting for. The tale of a woman forced to murder a secret police agent held both the lightness of comedy and the bitterness of timeless metaphor. Imbued with the elegance and charm of old-time cinema, the movie featured excellent performances by Agata Buzek, Krystyna Janda, and Anna Polony as well as Marcin Dorociński, and a brilliant part by Adam Woronowicz. No wonder that it was showered with awards at Gdynia and other film festivals. The pressure on Lankosz began to mount.
However, the director decided to wait it out. He didn’t rush pell-mell into producing another movie, instead leaving to the US for two years to work on other projects. “I follow my internal radar. Being honest with yourself is key: you have to find your subject and the right conditions. If you don’t have these, don’t even start – it won’t turn out right,” he advised.
After his return Lankosz produced A Grain of Truth starring Robert Więckiewicz. His adaptation of Zygmunt Miłoszewski’s detective novel brought him back to his favorite topic – Polish-Jewish trauma, this time in the conventions of a rollicking crime mystery, at times seamlessly transmuting into a pastiche of the genre. Having rewatched this movie on DVD recently, I discovered various tidbits I’d missed at my first pass – this work only gets better with time.
Lankosz directed a star-studded performance of Dołęga-Mostowicz’s Pamiętnik pani Hanki for TV theater and worked in Krystyna Janda’s Teatr Polonia, getting another worthwhile lesson preparing A Feast of Predators. Together with Magda, his wife, he directed a TV documentary about Stanisław Lem. He teaches master classes at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Warsaw; the students remind him of himself twenty years ago. Lankosz is working on several projects at once. An adaptation of Joanna Bator’s Nike-award-winning novel Dark, Almost Night is at an advanced stage of preparations. Inspired by Justyna Kopińska’s article, he’s also working on a story about Sister Bernardetta, the infamous child-abusing nun.
2016 Autor Solaris (documentary)
2015 A Grain of Truth (feature film)
2013 Pamiętnik pani Hanki (teleplay)
2012 Paradoks (series)
2012 Znaki szczególne (documentary)
2009 Reverse (feature film)
2008 Obcy VI (short)
2008 Radegast (documentary)
2008 Errol’s Record (documentary)
2007 Prime Minister (series)
2006 NiepoKORni (documentary)
2006 Z innej strony (documentary)
2005 Kurc (documentary)
2004 Kazimierz zamknięty (short)
2002 Polacy Polacy (documentary)
2001 Evolution (documentary)
1997 Powiększenie (documentary)
1997 Złota nić (school etude)
1996 Vis a vis (school etude)
1995 Dach (school etude)
1995 Niemcy (school etude)