The nice people at Kino recently released a six-pack of one of my favourite filmmakers, Krzysztof Kieslowski, and so in this section of me blog I will be discussing four of the man's early and mid-career efforts: The Scar (1976), The Camera Buff (1979),No End (1985), and Blind Chance (1987).
With its ironic Edenic reference, The Scar’s grim landscape of early 70s Poland is the backdrop to the story of one flawed but well-meaning man’s ambitious attempts to bring the benefits of industry to an unappreciative back-water town. The film’s documentary feel is no accident, as this is Kieslowski’s first feature film after a decade of documentary filmmaking, and the ragged feel of the film actually serves the subject matter well, even if it makes for some narrative hiccups and a certain unevenness in the quality of the performances and the overall production. The work of a filmmaker in chrysalis, The Scar is engaging and enlightening just often enough to pass muster; it certainly outlines a people, place and time in convincingly acerbic tones.
On the other hand, The Camera Buff is by Kieslowski’s standards, a light-hearted and playful romp through the gathering obsession of a lower middle pencil pusher. Filip acquires an 8mm camera in order to record his newborn child’s progress through this life, but the titular character soon becomes so enamoured with his new vocation that he risks everything--family, friends, employment—to indulge in his pursuits. As played by one of Kieslowski favourites, the wonderfully open-faced and clear-hearted Jerzy Stuhr (White, Decalogue), this is clearly a bit of navel-gazing on Kieslowski’s behalf; in fact, the film is self-deferential to an almost painful degree, as Filip’s need to record the world almost becomes more important than living in it, and the all-consuming passion edges the protagonist towards unlikability in the film’s latter stages. Laced with some biting satire aimed at the humourless and hopelessly literal-minded Communist bureaucrats who supervise and attempt to shape Filip's burgeoning documentary career, The Camera Buff is always an interesting film, as Kieslowski clearly knows well the challenges facing the artist in such an environment, and the sacrifices those close to them make in order to allow artists room to do their work.
Filmed immediately after the declaration of martial law in early 80’s Poland, No End is Kieslowski’s dry run for Blue, both are wrenching and beautifully-lensed studies of one woman’s struggle to deal with the death of loved ones in a larger politically-charged context. Where they differ: While similarly bleak and sorrowful, Blue finds a tortured peace, a painful hope, where No End is a giant sinkhole of despair. Echoes of my favourite Minghella film, Truly, Madly, Deeply, can be heard throughout as the attempts of a beautiful widow to deal with her suddenly and unexpectedly dead partner are complicated by his implicit continuing presence (and explicit on-screen appearance) in her life. Kieslowski’s most overtly political film, No End also follows the court case of one of the dead husband’s clients, a member of Solidarity and hence a victim of the recent crackdown brought about by the aforementioned declaration of marshall law. I’m dunno if the film really earns its horrific ending, as I’m not convinced that Ulla (the ravishing Grazyna Szpapolowska)
would so blithely dispatch herself from this world and her beloved son, but it is a finale that will surely set viewer’s tongues wagging, whether in agreement or disconcertion.
Blind Chance is the thrice-told tale of a young medical student’s various fates, all dependant upon whether or not he (Witek) catches a train fast-departing from the station is clearly the defining influence on Tom Tykwer’s frenetic and electric Run Lola Run as well as Peter Howitt’s more romantic comedy-inclined Sliding Doors. At first, the film has a disjointed and off-putting rhythm as Kieslowski doesn’t stoop to pander to his audience, but rather trusts that we’ll be able to piece together the fragments of this young man’s life in order to form a coherent narrative. Whether that trust is misplaced is, of course, a rather subjective call, but if you are paying attention to the film’s twists and turns, by the time the third episode takes shape, the image we have of this idealistic fellow is fully rounded and appealingly 3-dimensional. Boguslaw Linda gives a finely nuanced performance as Witek, playing in essence three characters in one, all of whom must behave plausibly and distinctively as their very different narratives play out, but each of whom must be, in the end, the same man despite their varying fates. While not as biting or memorable a comment on Polish life as his previous film, No End, Blind Chance is nonetheless a sly and incisive political commentary in the guise of a metaphysical examination of the state of humanity in a state-controlled universe