Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Outlanders - drama about illegal Polish labour in London

could you choose between love and blood?

Outlanders is a very well written film, with the plot falling like a blade aimed directly at the heart of the issue of cheap illegal labour in Britain, without drawing obvious conclusions or shying away from the complicated reality of the phenomenon. The plot focuses around a Pole named Alex who goes to find his brother Jan who moved to London illegally years before, and has become involved in the exploitation of illegal immigrants. The direction features some wonderful obscure shots that help to depict an unseen part of London but the film suffers from a poor script, dodgy sound quality and lack of decent lighting at times. All the elements for an engaging drama are in place, a great plot, good lead actor and a director with an eye that appreciates the appealing nature of the obscure, and can construct atmosphere with impressive skill. But the failings of the film can detract from the plot, when script is barely audible and some scenes so dark that you can barely see the actor's expressions. I spoke to director Dominic Lees and lead actor Jakub Tolak who plays Adam Jasinski.

Dominic: It’s easy to market the film for the polish community in Britain, which is huge, and it’s an opportunity for the UK audience to discover new stars.

Were you very conscious of the different national markets when making the film?

Dominic: No, I didn’t think about it in market terms, it’s a film about brotherhood, but it’s set against the background of East European migration to London and Britain, so the universal story is about the relationship between the younger brother Adam, who is the hero and his older brother Jan who has been here a long time, he came when Poles were having to work illegally, so he’s worked on the black economy and has become a corrupt character. Essentially it’s just a film about brotherhood, but because I lived and studies in Poland and speak Polish, it was natural that the story was going to be about two Polish brothers coming here.

How do you anticipate the film being received in the two countries? I know you said you don’t think about it in market terms…

Dominic: Now it’s going to be really interesting because it’s one of the first films that’s going to be marketed at two sides of the British audience, the cine savvy UK audience who love independent film, they’ll have a natural interest in it, and festivals and so on it’s been getting a good reaction from those kind of audiences and separately there is a marketing effort to get Poles in the UK, I mean there’s what a million people, to be interested in a British film that can reflect their experience. That’s a kind of voyage of discovery, because no one has really done that yet. It may be a whole big new section of the British community that will come into film watching through that, you never know.

Jakub, how did you go about preparing for your role?

Jakub:It was kind of a process, at first I came to London just shooting for one week or more and I really wanted to feel abandoned so I went to the city a couple of times, walking around in the areas I didn’t know, and I wanted to feel totally lonely and I just wanted to feel the city, because I’ve been to London before, but I’ve never travelled just like that, I was always purposefully seeing something. The character comes here knowing nothing about the city so I kind of took the tube and just went somewhere, anywhere, got lost and watched different kinds of people, this was a very good part of it. The second part was a lot of talking, we had rehearsals, and we built up a back story which was pretty huge for this story.I knew what happened, I almost became the guy. I also tried to draw from my own experiences and put them into the character.

How does the atmosphere of London differ from that of Warsaw?

Jakub: In my opinion London is more alive, it has more different cultures, a mixture, it’s a bigger city. You enter London, and you enter London, there’s houses and houses, it’s huge, I can’t have a view of the whole city, it’s impossible for me. Despite the diversity it’s very much a whole, different races and languages, but the city is a whole, with the architecture, you can feel the spirit of the city. I think it’s on purpose, because I know English people really like the symbols of the city, red post boxes etc

How do you feel about the mistreatment of illegal Polish workers?

Jakub:I do have some friends who came here, to work or usually to study. But I didn’t have any experience with illegal workers which would have helped, but I knew that was a problem, and it’s a problem that is everywhere at the moment. In Poland we have people from the East or even the Far East coming to work illegally, I think that’s the normal way of history, usually when the country has better living conditions, people go there, the whole of America was made of illegal immigrants.

And have you any feelings with respect to the vulnerability of those immigrants?

Dominic: One thing the film does with these two brothers is compares their different experiences, because the older brother has already been here for 10 years, working on the black economy, he was really vulnerable and exploited. His back story is really sad and quite tragic and that compares with his younger brother who has turned up here after Poland has joined the EU and all he has to do is flash his passport and they let him in, he can work legally and he can do what he likes. Two completely different experiences of what it is like to come to this country. The older brother is corrupt in his own way and he now exploits workers from outside the EU, who he can get to work for cheap, illegally on construction site, repeating the same exploitation that he himself suffered.

Could you elaborate on the theme of the unseen “dark heart” of London?

Dominic: It builds on what Jakub was saying about the nature of London, it’s a beautiful city, its fabulously multi-cultural, it’s so varied but still has a unified soul to it. We have to be aware that a lot is built on the suffering of very vulnerable people, this film is about the way migrants from outside the EU are very vulnerable, and are ruthlessly exploited, and have no protection whatsoever. Every civilisation does this, from the Egyptians who built the pyramids with slaves and onwards, every civilisation has built itself on other people. That to me is the two sides of a great metropolis.

Jakub: I think netiher of us wanted to criticise the system or preach, just ask some questions about some general situations, some things that are going on, but we don’t want to answer we just want to ask. If people want to think about it they can, otherwise they can just see the movie.

Do you think the film will help to break you into Britain?

Jakub: I wouldn’t expect that, it would be na├»ve, my motivation to take part was neither money nor fame because it’s an independent movie, I wouldn’t expect that, we all knew that so that would be nice, but I just wanted to do such projects. I’d like to do more in England, as it’s very interesting for me as a pole, everything is new.

What attracted you to the role?

Jakub: I was attracted because it was an adventure, and the story is quite dense, a lot of things going on, interesting scenes, interesting emotions. I would say I treated this as an experimental thing because I was alone here; I purposefully cut contact with my family. Trying to find something more of myself.

Dominic: Jakub is being modest, one thing I’ve really enjoyed about the limited audiences that have seen it so far, people who don’t know the leading actors in this film, they say God! Who is that guy, the leading actor in this film!

Jakub: you didn’t tell me that!

Dominic: Haha! It’s really exciting because they have no preconceptions, this is an actor they haven’t seen, he’s come straight at them from under the radar, Jakub is very well known for his film work and television work in Poland. I was very excited to have him board.

Was the casting a difficult process?

Well I was certain I wanted Polish actors for the main two roles, twenty years ago Jeremy Irons played a Polish construction worker in the film ‘Moonlighting’ that today is absurd. You can’t have a British actor do that. Poland has a wealth of talent, but I needed to find two talented actors who could work English, which narrowed down my choices, in fact when it came down to it, there was only one actor I wanted to play Adam and that was Jakub and one to play his older brother and I was really lucky to get both of them.

You see Adam as being a hero? His role seems to be that of an individual with a difficult decision rather than a hero.

Dominic: when researching for the film, I asked my friends ‘if you knew you’re brother had murdered someone, would you shop them to the police or if they needed your protection would you protect them? And almost every single person said they would protect them. But they’re also thinking ‘I don’t like the fact that I’ll protect him even though I know I must’ that kind of tension is what the whole film is founded on. For me it’s a film of universal themes of brotherhood and morality, but set against very current phenomenon, but it’s not about that phenomenon, it’s opening questions about what it is to love and hate your brother at the same time.

Jakub: Many people ask if it’s a movie about Polish people in London, it’s not, it’s about immigration anywhere, I would like to see it this way. I wouldn’t treat the film as a story about Polish guys, but about brotherhood and immigration in general. The brothers do not represent their country.
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