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Mug 2018

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Malgorzata Szumowska showcases a serious approach informed by deadpan humor towards the politics of identity, body and society, and describes her film as ''a fairytale for adults.''

Jacek (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz) loves heavy metal, his girlfriend and his dog. His family, his small hometown, his fellow parishioners all see him as an amusing freak. Jacek works at the construction site of what it is supposed to become the tallest statue of Jesus in the world. When a severe accident disfigures him completely, all eyes turn to him as he undergoes the first facial transplant in the country.


Q: Do you identify yourself with Jacek?

Malgorzata Szumowska: I really connect with him. This character, who arouses anxiety, laughter, astonishment not only in his family but also in the village, struck me with his pure and natural energy, his honesty in a world filled with distortions. Jacek possesses all the characteristics of a romantic hero. He is the definition of freedom.

Q: Together with Michal Englert, cinematographer, and co-author of the script, you question the importance of a person's background and roots in his life. In a way, do you think that Jacek's family turns out to become his stigma?

Malgorzata Szumowska: At the beginning of the film, his family is at the same time his strength and his weakness. The way he is is equally because and thanks to them. Who he becomes after the accident, is also the result of their actions towards Jacek. The family has a problem with adapting to this new and different Jacek. His mother actually thinks that this is not Jacek at all, expressing her skepticism, so characteristic for Poles towards transplantations. This is not ''in accordance with religion''. Also, this typical, Polish, Catholic family is rather a curse for the hero - which is why he wants to run from it. The only person that accepts him is his sister.

We portray a Polish family at a certain turning point. Perhaps some people will have judgments on this family and their relationships, while others will see in them a regular provincial family. I leave it to the audience to form their own opinion. Sure, they are a bit dysfunctional, but which family isn't? Anyway, my goal is not to stigmatize a Polish family from provincial Poland. This is a fairy tale about a human being who becomes a misfit - not just an outsider - but a real apostate, in a sense, even a sinner.

Q: But it's not the first time that you are portraying the Polish province.

Malgorzata Szumowska: I know Poland well beyond the metropolitan areas. In my childhood, I was spending a lot of time each year in a Masurian village with my parents. To this day, it keeps giving me an insight of the people and the provinces as even today, I go to my parents' country house with my children and friends.

The action of the film ''MUG'' is set in the beautiful and unspoiled southern part of Poland, but above all, what interests me is this man who is facing some kind of a dilemma and something mysterious, a man who is surrounded by wild nature, and in a way live among wild people.

The world of the countryside is beautiful and cruel at the same time, people can be vicious. Everything here is simpler, the rules of life are clearer, more primeval. Mundane life is based on relationships and coexistence with nature. A man cannot just cut himself off from his roots, they will always come back around.

I like to portray this kind of Poland, but this is a Poland that Jacek is trying to get away from. Despite its untamed beauty.

Q: The idea of ''MUG'' has been inspired by real events.

Malgorzata Szumowska: Yes, but this is only the background for all the events taking place. On one hand, what is important is the construction of the largest figure in the world of Christ in Świebodzin. It is bigger than the statue in Rio de Janeiro. On the other hand, the world's first face transplant surgery to save the patient's life. It was performed by the physicians of the Oncology Centre in Gliwice. I prepared reliable documentation of both these events, and we also talked with Grzegorz Galasiński, who went through such an operation. Meeting with him helped us a lot.

Q: How important was the characterization of Jacek, the protagonist, in the case of ''MUG''?

Malgorzata Szumowska: It was crucial. If before the accident Jacek is just a handsome boy, full of life and charm - his appearance after the accident had to instill resentment, although his charm was to remain. This was a difficult task. Jacek after the accident is a person that can scare people. The operation from a medical point of view was obviously successful since it saved his life. But, looking from an aesthetic point of view, one begins to wonder what can one do with such a face, how to function in family, at work, on the street, with a woman, etc. Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, who plays the role of Jacek, had all this in himself, both the charm of a young, straightforward person, who carries on through life with hope and faith in the future, as well as someone who after an accident must redefine his place in the family and in the village he comes from.

Q: Everyone around is undermining Jacek's presence, except maybe his sister and grandfather, while he just wants to get back to how things were before the accident.

Malgorzata Szumowska: This seemed intriguing to me. He did not change inside, only his physicality changed. There is no hatred in him towards fate. Jacek does not writhe and does not argue emotionally, there is no grudge and contempt for life in him. He knows that life can go on, but it's the people around him who do not give him that chance.

Q: Putting on the makeup of Mateusz Kościukiewicz to achieve Jacek's face after the accident, took several hours each day.

Malgorzata Szumowska: Waldemar Pokromski, our makeup artist, often began his work around 4:00 in the morning to be ready with Mateusz by 8:00. It wasn't easy, but the effect was worth the time! They both did a remarkable job - you can see it in every detail. Mateusz changed beyond recognition, but on the other hand, we see the same person while looking at him.

Q: The relationship between Jacek and his sister seems to be fundamental to the whole story.

Malgorzata Szumowska: The sister is the only one who believes in Jacek, helps him after the accident in dealing with the media, supports collecting donations for his recovery. She is with him every day, helping him with the simplest and the most difficult everyday actions, in other words, she teaches him how to return to life, often forgetting and neglecting her own family. Their relationship is most certainly exceptional. The sister will do everything to bring Jacek back to a balanced existence and life within a society so that he will not lose faith in himself or in others. Actually, the real sister of Grzegorz Galasiński, the transplant patient who inspired the story, was exactly such a person and we modeled the film character based on her.

Q: It's a touching strong bond, but it was already so before Jacek's accident.

Malgorzata Szumowska: This is true, and yet Jacek hears obsessive remarks about his appearance not only from the inhabitants of the village but also from the family. He is tolerated, but he becomes also an object of jokes and ridicule. The sister is the only one who gives him the right to freedom, to live in peace with himself. She accepts him as he is, she doesn't try to change him, she doesn't require him to adapt and no longer stand out: he cuts his hair, shaves his beard and puts on a suit. She encourages him to leave the village, she sustains the desire to do something in spite of all the others, beyond the natural and predictable course of their lives. This is most certainly related to the fact that she missed her chance. Her brother is her hope to realize her dreams of escape. She believed that he would succeed where she didn't. Hence her strong faith in him and help at every stage of his life.

Q: ''MUG'' is a universal film, simple, but also very witty in its message.

Malgorzata Szumowska: I make films about what itches me in Poland. What irritates me is: deeply rooted unmindful Catholicism, hypocrisy, aggression, lack of tolerance and turning a blind eye on what is different, new. These elements were present in all my films, but in fact ''MUG'' is more accosting than all the rest. It just happened. I cannot imagine approaching certain topics on my knees, with humility or with some thesis at the beginning. I know that I cannot fight certain things, but I can make fun of them. I have the impression that we would all benefit if we were to laugh more often in Poland and less argue. And this is my film - Jacek, despite the adversities of fate and the behavior of relatives, does not lose his good spirits. I see what is happening in Poland, it worries me, it hurts and fills me with anxiety, but if I talked about it in this way, no one would want to listen to what I say. So, I choose black humor. Together with Michael Englert we ever more understand the type of cinema we desire to create. We trust each other, and it also seems to me, that we can afford to take ever greater risks.

And, when it comes to humor in movies, we check how it will work out ourselves. Polish cinema does not have too many comedies appreciated abroad in the past. Maybe this situation has to change. I'm not going to make a comedy right now, but I'm interested in black humor in Polish cinema because it's refreshing and simply appealing. I think it is a valuable attempt to show Poles from a different perspective than the serious, historical or martyrological point of views the world is accustomed to. I had wanted to approach many national themes before or let's say emblematic from the point of view of social mores - with a grain of salt, but this was successful with varying effect. After the film ''Body'', when our cinematographic sense of humor was appreciated by critics in Poland and abroad, I fuelled my desire to show that the Poles also can have a distance to each other. In my life, I think more and more often that only distance and wit can save us.

Q: From What?

Malgorzata Szumowska: Well, mainly from ourselves.

  • Co-author of the script, cinematographer, producer MICHAL ENGLERT and ACTORS' STATEMENTS

Michal Englert: Already during the writing process, together with Malgoska, we wanted to make this story a parable, a contemporary myth, and even a bit of a fairy tale. Hence the decision, among many other reasons, to choose the south of Poland as the setting for the film. A not-so-high mountain range, but wild and mysterious. This was all the more important because the story tells, in a sense, about the relationship between man and nature, the place of birth and its cultural roots, customs. At the same time, we tell a rather bitter, not only naively romantic story, in this picturesque landscape. It occurred to me to use old folding cameras with a specific focus zone. Such a procedure is quite risky as it directs the perception of the viewer to specific elements within the frame. There is some kind of a distortion, rescaling, but it seemed to me that it could support the narrative about this certain distortion, deformation, the subjectivity of the view, and to continue, dysfunctions in human relations and society. As you can see, in some scenes this margin of perception is greater, in others, it narrows drastically. In addition, I had associations with children books in which the page opens and suddenly a castle and paper trees pop-up. At that moment, it seems man has a specific place on such a scale - we become small, almost as if we were Gulliver in a fairy tale.

As always, it's difficult to discuss images, as everyone probably sees things in a different way. Thus I prefer when perception and sensitivity guide the audience, allowing it to connect pictures with versatile inspirations from art and life. It would not make any sense to give any hints regarding interpretation, because I do hope that everyone will read this as something new. Most certainly both Malgoska and I, wanted to tell this story this way, i.e. in a new way for us, I hope, despite the intended naivety, in an unobvious and unpretentious fashion... so for some, our film monument will be a contemporary tower of Babel, and for others something completely different. And let it stay like that.

Mateusz Kosciukiewicz: Participation in the film ''MUG'' allowed me to return to the roots of acting and recalled memories from the times when I was in college. I was interested then in the Grotowski Theatre and I was wondering about the different acting techniques, what kind of masks we wear when playing in films or going on stage. I was also thinking about how this profession has evolved over the years. Actors in the old days only appeared on stage in masks - in the ancient theatre they did not play differently. While constructing Jacek's character it seemed important to me. The more so because I wear a mask in most of the film. Such a task in contemporary cinema is rarely presented to an actor.

From the very beginning, I, first of all, tried to understand what this cover over my face, this mask, gives me. On the one hand, it hid me in a sense - but it was not its strongest impact - the most important thing to me was that no one saw what I was really doing: what instruments I used under the mask to activate such and no other reactions or behaviors of the hero. Acting in a mask, one can afford many things. In the emotional dimension, as an actor, you can go really far, without a mask it would be artificial, untrue, and would involve excessive expression. But just so that the mask responds appropriately, you must cross the boundaries - for example in your facial expressions - which in normal acting would have no reason d’être: they would be interpreted as an exaggeration, abuse, too broad a gesture.

Was it difficult to act in a mask? I worked 20 hours a day, and just the preparations for the role and makeup lasted about four: this required patience, even peace on the borderline of meditation. A difficult task. And although these morning preparations were not the easiest ones, I was happy with the effect. I was happy that I was able to do something so rare and unusual in cinema. After some time, I can also say that I was very close to my mask. I began to treat it as a part of myself. I took it off for a very short time (a few hours for a break during shooting), so at some point, I just stopped realizing when I was or was not wearing it. At the end of the shooting period - regardless of whether I was wearing it or not - I felt like I was in a mask all the time.

In relation to Agnieszka Podsiadlik, who impersonates Jacek's sister, some things took place between us without words. No words were necessary to describe the heroine's suffering, her pain, longing, unfulfilled hopes. Jacek was always someone special to his sister, and after the accident, he became even more special. It does not surprise me. The hero is challenged by an unusual value in life. He is the kind of ordinary-extraordinary hero who fights, does not give up. And although the accident changes his face - something that could have devastated him - the only thing Jacek wants is to return to normality. To ordinary life. His reaction seems to me real, humane. Despite the breakthrough and trauma, Jacek is the same boy. And, he wants his life back.

Agnieszka Podsiadlik: ''MUG'' is an allegorical parable. Fairytale features give this story a universal dimension - strongly outlined characters and a system of values constructed from the beginning. In turn, the reliably presented relations and situations that the heroes must cope with make ''MUG'' a semi-realistic story. Looking at the lives of the main characters, we have the impression that these are not excerpts or fragments of their lives, but the whole reality - indeed a microcosm. If someone were watching it from another dimension, he could learn many things about these people in a short time. Everything here has its order, purpose, direction, is predetermined and almost predictable. We break this string - we tell what would happen if something unexpected occurred.

My character is a woman just like many other women - a wife, a mother of two children, a housewife. Or maybe, above all, we should speak of her as a ''sister''. Her relationship with her younger brother, Jacek, is fundamental. Both of them are connected, they understand each other without words. It is she who accepts the need for her brother's freedom, encourages him to change, even in spite of all the others. Alone in her actions, she binds the whole household, and at the same time has to deal with disrespect and lack of acceptance from the husband and the rest of the family.

Does the accident changes something in the relationship between the siblings? When Jacek is still healthy, only his sister believes that he could go away and be happy and accomplish something in his life somewhere else. She believes he could do what she was not able to do. In turn, after the accident, she takes care of him with complete devotion, totally focusing her attention on him. It is extraordinary, because even though her brother is frail and unhappy, fighting for him still gives her strength to continue with her existence in the town and at home.

From the perspective of my heroine, ''MUG'' is a story about unfulfilled longings and hopes. The brother is a chance for his sister - an extension of her dreams. I believe that this is an optimistic but also a perverse story. It says, that when we call a spade a spade and see things as they are, we have the opportunity to do something about them. Yes, we can change reality, influence what surrounds us. The question is, do we dare, do we really want to fight for ourselves? My character learns just this. It is a bitter but very valuable lesson.

Mug Movie Details 🎥

Directed by

Malgorzata Szumowska

Writing Credits

Malgorzata Szumowska

Michal Englert


Mateusz Kosciukiewicz

Agnieszka Podsiadlik

Malgorzata Gorol

Anna Tomaszewska

Dariusz Chojnacki

Robert Talarczyk

Roman Gancarczyk

Iwona Bielska

Martyna Krzysztofik

Krzysztof Czeczot

Krzysztof Ibisz

Music by

Adam Walicki

Cinematography by

Michael Englert

Genres: Comedy, Drama

Country: Poland

Mug Official Trailer

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