All These Sleepless Nights, the new doc by Michal Marczak, is full of twilight moments. Kris Baginski and his best friend Michal Huszcza walk the streets of Warsaw at dusk, looking for the best dance party that night. They meet intriguing strangers, leave the party together, and accompany their new friends on another Warsaw walkabout as the blue light of dawn falls over the city. Then they do it all over again the next night. It's a film of subtle shifts and turnovers—of day slipping into night slipping into day, of seasons blurring, but also of friendships frayed and then only slightly mended, of love forged on shaky ground that falls away.
Marczak's film captures the magic of nights that never seem to end. Marczak's movie is, as he tells Sweet, a hybrid of documentary and fiction. By the time he met Kris and Michal, when they were art students hanging out on the periphery of the school's more popular crowd, he already had a loose idea for the kind of story he wanted to tell.
"I knew that I wanted to make a film about that first big friendship when you meet someone you feel like you can share your mood with and live through all these moments together," Marczak says. "But one of the characters really wants to concentrate on exploring who he actually is, because he was a little bit in the shadow of the other friend. I think you can only do that when you get outside of your comfort zone and see how you interact with other people."
Marczak says he saw this dynamic already present in Michal and Kris's relationship. "What I love about Michal and Kris is that they were in this very intense friendship," he explains. "But at the same time, Michal was a very outgoing, not-giving-a-fuck type of guy. Kris was always kind of analyzing, thinking through everything, and a little bit more self-conscious."
But what about when Kris falls in love with and starts dating Michal's ex-girlfriend? Is that real?
So, yes, Kris and Michal are actually great friends. And when they explore train tunnels and nearly get hit, when one of their friends shatters a bottle in the street—those are real experiences that come out of the euphoria of sleepless nights. But what about when Kris falls in love with and starts dating Michal's ex-girlfriend? Is that real? When Michal temporarily cuts Kris out of his life, is that real? When Kris gets an enviable high-rise corner apartment that quickly becomes its own social scene, is that real?
At what point do two non-actor best friends stop pretending they're no longer right for each other and actually realize it's true? When the cameras are still rolling?
Sweet asked Marczak about what happens when two friends blur the lines between pretend and real emotion.
How real were the experiences Kris and Michal had at the dance parties and music festivals? Were the guys already planning on going to those events and clubs or were they scouted?
It was a combination. The crew was very small, and we always had our stuff ready. Together we would make the decisions, like, where is a place that we could live through something that would be meaningful and have emotional resonance to all of us. Sometimes it was just a place that felt right, and then we went there with a few background people or with another character who we wanted to do the scene with. So we kind of stole the background or utilized an existing place—we all came there together and we knew, more or less, what we wanted to achieve.
Other times we went in with a super-minimal group, and then just let the whole thing kind of play out. Those scenes were more documentary-like because any interaction with people was not planned.
Since you spent so much time at parties with Kris and Michal, did you become friends with them?
We became friends way before we started shooting. I had a very rough idea, and then I went into this crowd that was younger than me, and I started talking to a lot of people, getting their stories, finding locations. And then I met [Kris and Michal] and we spent about three months together, doing the touch-ups on the story and modifying it. So, when we started officially shooting, everybody was accustomed to the camera, a lot of the places already knew us, we had a lot of secondary characters chosen.
Speaking of secondary characters, how real was Kris's relationship with Eva? Was Eva really Michal's ex, or was she a friend who agreed to be a secondary character for the film?
I have to leave some magic. Some things that started out as scripted grew into something very real. The whole point was to come up with situations that would actually be really true to these characters, things that they're yearning for. We tried to divide up the scenes into ways where the emotions were really there, instead of like in a fiction film where you're pretending that people feel a certain way because that is what the schedule tells you to do right at that moment.
"I guess then, yes, there actually was love, there was real love." —Michal Marczak
And when that happens, you can fall in love because you're going for this beautiful moment, and you are with this beautiful girl, and there's resonance between you. So, I guess then, yes, there actually was love, there was real love.
From what I understand, you had Kris and Michal and the others come in and re-record audio in post-production. Does this mean they had to relive, recreate those very tense experiences?
There's no way to cheat it. Most of the scenes have some kind of music in the background. In order to have full control over the soundtrack and the sound design, we have to re-record dialogue. To get the sound right the emotions have to be there. We would bring people into a studio, we would blast loud music in their headphones, and if they were a little stoned in a scene, we'd get them stoned. We would do a scene over and over and over until the people could really recreate those emotions.
You're from Warsaw originally. How would you characterize the party and hookup culture of Warsaw now, as we see it in the film, versus when you were growing up?
It's much more playful. People are much less self-conscious; they're more open. I remember when I came over to the States when I was like 19, and I felt inferior. I don't think people in Poland feel that now. They see themselves as citizens of the world.
"In Poland, I've had many adventures with people where I would spend a whole night with them and nobody would know who we were, what we do in life."
The hookup culture, that was one of the things that was important to show. I think people wake up together in bed, but they didn't have a sexual encounter, because it's kind of cool to show warmth and empathy toward each other and to have the feeling of closeness. There's a lot of playfulness with sexuality, which I think comes off in that scene where the girl plays with the two boys, and they get into a situation where they could very easily jump into a threesome but they don't.
One thing I think a lot of Americans have picked up on while watching this film is how rarely anyone talks about work.
The work these people do really isn't interesting. It doesn't really tell a lot about their character, it's just kind of work they do to get by, and they're realizing their dreams in other spheres of their lives. It's actually really cheap to live in Poland. You can live in these beautiful apartments in the city center. You don't have to commute, you can walk everywhere. You really don't have to [use much] energy to be able to live on that level. So, it is a really sweet kind of spot and that conversation is not on many people's minds.
For Americans, work is a conversation starter. It's like, "Who are you, what do you do in life, where do you work?" The status is super-important, I think. And in Poland, I've had many adventures with people where I would spend a whole night with them and we'd talk about all these random things and nobody would know who we were, like what we do in life. We could infer, but you wouldn't really know.
All These Sleepless Nights is now playing at select theaters. For more info, visit allthesesleeplessnights.com.