Thursday, March 08, 2007

Kieslowski Double - 1

Last night Melbourne Cinémathèque screened the first of four weeks of films by Krzysztof Kieslowski. First up was Trois couleurs: Bleu (Three Colors: Blue, 1993) followed by Przypadek (Blind Chance, 1981). The latter didn’t receive a release until 1987 due to state censorship (the film takes a dim view of politics in Poland).

I discovered Cinémathèque last year but rarely stayed for the second screening because of work the next morning. This year I’ve made a commitment to myself to try to get to as many second screenings as possible, and this week’s was surely the pick of the season thus far for me. The Kieslowsi double was completely sublime.

Three Colors: Blue
I started watching films as an adult in 1992. The first three films were Shattered (Wolfgang Petersen, 1991), The Doctor (Randa Haines, 1991) and Black Robe (Bruce Beresford, 1991). I first saw Blue when released around 1993/94. It was the first ‘arthouse’ film I’d seen and struck me. It opened me up to the fact that there was a whole other world of cinema out there, other than mainstream Hollywood.

Thirteen or so years later and, though I knew basically what the film was about, both I and my appreciation of cinema have evolved and sufficient time has passed to the point that the second viewing was almost like seeing it for the first time. The film is emotionally powerful, confidently and competently directed, though I feel these descriptions to be understatements. For me, it must count as one of the best films I have ever seen.

The three colours in Kieslowski’s trilogy refer to the French flag (blue, white and red), and each colour represents liberty, equality and fraternity respectively. Kieslowski’s depiction of liberty is explored in the context of Julie, the survivor of a terrible car crash (Juliette Binoche) which claimed the lives of her husband and five year old daughter.

Grief is a terrible thing, and those of us who have experienced it first-hand know how disorienting it can be. It is also lonely – no-one else can relieve a person’s pain, and it must be worked through. Binoche’s depiction of a grieving person was a performance of a quality I have never seen her repeat.

Kieslowski delves into one person’s journey and offers tremendous insights. His sense of humanity without sentimentality is awesome. Though he is Polish, the film is in French language and filmed in France (mostly Paris). I can see now how this film on first viewing drew me into the darker French dramas, and each year I eagerly await the Melbourne French Film Festival (coming soon: 20/3/07 – 3/4/07). Films like Blue are, however, rare.

Blind Chance

La double vie de Véronique (The Double Life of Veronique, 1991) and the colours trilogy are the only Kieslowski films that received a commercial release in Australia. The Cinémathèque screenings are a rare opportunity for Melbournians to see one of the world’s great director’s films on the big screen.

Blind Chance recalls for me various films that I have seen that were made later. Like Hollywood film Sliding Doors (Peter Howitt, 1998) with Gwyneth Paltrow, it asks the question “what if?”. What if that train you’re running to catch: (1) you just get it, (2) you miss because the station-master obstructs you, or (3) you miss without incident? This seemingly innocuous incident has a profound effect on Witek’s life. But unlike the romantic pop story in Sliding Doors, Kieslowski uses the scenarios to paint three different stories for one man torn between his sense of moral obligations, personal ambitions, grief at the recent loss of his father and mental weakness. All this is painted in the context of political unrest and upheaval in communist Poland.

Each outcome is completely plausible, and tragically ends in pain of one kind or another. A conjugal relationship is formed in each scenario, but with different women and with different outcomes. Kieslowski here is refuting the romantic concept that there is a thing called destiny which predetermines who we end up partnering with. Even if we choose left over right, the popular mythology would have us believe, we will end up with our true soul mate.

Run Lola Run (Lola Rennt, Tom Tykwer, 1998) was more like Blind Chance in content and theme than Sliding Doors. Tykwer’s energy-packed and unconventional romance thriller also used the ‘what-if’ concept to explore philosophical ideas and darker elements of society, though not with Kieslowski’s gritty realism. Tykwer had Lola and Manni die for each other in two scenarios, and a happy ending in the third. Kieslowski’s Witek joins the Party machine in one scenario, becomes a student rebel in another and struggling to remain impartial in the third. The film is profound and moving and the end is sudden and shocking. I sat agape for sometime while the credits rolled.

Based on week 1 of the Kieslowski screenings, I highly recommend the rest of the season at ACMI on Wednesday evenings, 7pm. On March 14 is screening Three Colors: White and Camera Buff. March 21: Three Colors: Red and A Short Film About Love as well as the short Bricklayer. March 28: 2 shorts: Refrain and Factory before two Sam Fuller features (The Naked Kiss and Park Row).


LenKa said...

Great job! I love the film - well, I adore everything Kieslowski's done...
The story is hard to follow somehow due to politics: without good knowledge of the background (December 1981 & all) it's difficult to understand & appreciate the story & its greatness.

Paul Martin said...

Yes, Lenka, I felt there were some subtleties that eluded me due to lack of spefic political events of the time. In spite of that, the film is strong enough to convey its humanity and to enjoy it immensely. I suppose it's a bit like going to a country which you really like even if you're a little disorientated by the different culture.

It's nice to meet another person who appreciates Kieslowski (but it's a pity I can't read a word of Russian!).

Anonymous said...

A blind chance I came across your excellent blog, Paul!

LenKa: Мы крестом друг друга пути снова! We meet everywhere!

Paul: Can you help a sheila with info on how to do a screening over in Aussie land, please? (That's all the Australian I know I'm afraid!) Starfish has posted a question on my blog about Krzysztof Kieślowski's Talking Heads that you might be able to answer.

Regarding gritty films to watch, Ken Loach's new film It's a Free World... might be worth looking out for, particularly in the context of the large Polish community that has migrated to the UK and elsewhere in Europe in recent years.

What's the weather like at the moment? Here's it's been bucketing down rain for over a week and a lot of flooding is taking place.

By the way Paul, feel free to drop in anytime on my blog for a chat about Krzysztof Kieślowski. I'm usually online from 06:00 to 07:30 and from 16:00 to 21:00 hours, UK time. All the best.

À bientôt,

Alexandre FABBRI