Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Krzysztof Kieslowski (1941-1996)

Sierra Club


To tell you the truth, in my work, love is always in opposition to the elements. It creates dilemmas. It brings in suffering. We can't live with it, and we can't live without it. You'll rarely find a happy ending in my work.


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Probably the best known Polish Film Director of the last two decades, Kieslowski began by making documentaries. These films concentrated on aspects of Polish life, culture, and political conditions under the then Communist Party. Indeed it was these conditions which helped spark the Solidarity movement which ultimately forced the Party to relinquish power by way of new general elections.

Starting with short black and white 16mm documentaries, Kieslowski began to develop a style that would become characteristic of his work. Emphasis on seemingly insignificant moments such as feet walking, or background characters helped to bring a natural clarity to his cinematography. The audience becomes a genuine third party, observing the natural flow of the subjects within his field of vision imposed by the camera. Realism was what Kieslowski concentrated on, and indeed his films, especially the features, have a documentary feel to them.

Earlier films reflected a social commentary on Polish martial law and the way in which ordinary people maintained their lives inside a restrictive social environment. His award-winning 1979 feature, Camera Buff, a slyly humorous, satirical look at life in a corrupt provincial factory, may have had personal dimensions for Kieslowski as it depicts a filmmaker who exposes himself to both attention and criticism when he progresses from home movies to committed social documentaries. (It featured a cameo by Zanussi playing himself.)

Kieslowski learned firsthand that censorship may ride on the coattails of exposure with Blind Chance (1981), which considered three possibilities for Poland's political future as it explored three different outcomes springing from the premise of a student trying to catch a train. Blind Chance was unable to include a fourth story in which Poland throws out the Communist Party entirely, and the remaining film, still quite impressive, was banned for over five years before finally being released in 1987. While the outcome of one Blind Chance story was a blithely apolitical world (the student misses the train, and instead meets a sexy woman with whom he becomes involved), Kieslowski's subsequent No End (1984), while not forsaking wit entirely, nonetheless refused to be glibly satirical. The film's hero, a lawyer who represented many Poles oppressed by martial law, is dead at the film's opening.

Like Zanussi's work, Kieslowski's films always featured philosophical journeys into the human spirit and a concern for the moral and ethical implications of human action. Fittingly, he confirmed his status as a major contemporary director with Decalogue (1988), an ambitious series of ten hour-long films funded by Polish TV, telling stories "based" on the Ten Commandments. (In Decalogue 10, for instance, two brothers, an accountant and a punk rocker, both covet the stamp collection they have inherited from their father.) In the same year, Kieslowski expanded segments five and six into two features, A Short Film about Killing and A Short Film about Love. Partially set, like the rest of the series, on a Warsaw housing estate, A Short Film about Killing is a grim and powerful tale drawing formal parallels between the act of murder and the workings of the criminal justice system.

His first major international film, The Double Life of Veronique (1991) explored human emotion in a very delicate often ironic way. Indeed as he put it, "...a sensitive film for sensitive people..." The Double Life of Veronique explores the simultaneous lives of two women, one Polish and the other French who are each other's double, and who both feel a strange link to each other's lives.

His magnum opus and fittingly enough, his last film project was a trilogy series entitled Three Colours: Blue (1993), Red (1994) and White (1994). Based on the three colours of the French Revolution, each film examines one thread of each theme. Blue examines freedom, as portrayed by a woman who loses her family in an automobile accident, and the way in which she discovers a new direction to her life. White looks at one man's struggle for equality in his marriage in an aura of black humour, and finally Red concentrates on fraternity by highlighting the development of a relationship between a young model and an elderly man.

Sadly in March 1996 Kieslowski died due to heart compilcations in a Warsaw hospital, but not before announcing tentative plans for another trilogy rumoured to be based upon the concepts of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. [Adapted from A Short Website About Kieslowski]

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