Kieslowski favorites revisited

Last March marked the 10th anniversary of the death of Krzysztof Kieslowski, an occasion that prompted the rerelease of «La double vie de Veronique.» At the same time, Greece saw the release of two collections comprising six digitally remastered films representing the celebrated director’s Polish period. Starting tomorrow, however, Athens film theaters will be showing «La double vie de Veronique» in an invitation to cinema aficionados with a discerning eye for beauty and grace. «La double vie de Veronique» served as a bridge that brought Poland’s Kieslowski, in 1991, to France and made his films popular throughout Europe. It represented a poetic, metaphysical rift, an alluring cinematic trick that was not made with special effects to scare, but with the materials of an existential drama that reflected its maker’s angst. The story may appear complex, but reveals itself to be simple and clear as crystal: The spirit of a young woman is embodied in two fragile women, strangers to one another; Polish Weronika and Parisian Veronique, who look like two peas in a pod. Kieslowski possibly felt as one does in a dream. He was trying to fly to Poland, where he had left his soul, but gravity grounded him in France. The film delves into the very essence of his inner being. It is as if he tried to make out how he really appeared by looking at his reflection doubled in two pieces of broken mirror. If we were to try to draw a parallel with other great moments in European cinema, «La double vie de Veronique» would stand on a par with Andrei Tarkovsky’s «Mirror» and «Nostalgia.» Kieslowski was known to say that his love for Poland was like a long marriage, where the couple know everything about one another and were rather bored with each other, but, if one were to die first, the other would surely follow shortly after. The filmmaker said that he could not imagine his life without Poland and admitted to having trouble settling in the West, even though conditions were ideal. Kieslowski died at the age of 55 – five years after shooting «La double vie de Veronique» – suffering cardiac arrest on March 13, 1996, at a French hospital while undergoing heart surgery. He had recently completed his «Three Colors Trilogy» («Blue,» «White» and «Red») and had said, in 1994, that he was through with filmmaking. Kieslowski believed that cinema rarely was a work of art, but a way to describe the world. Guided by this conviction, he made 11 fiction feature films, the «Decalogue» television series (whose moral profundity has separated it from the usual one-dimensional TV fare) and a plethora of documentaries, at the start of his career. His systematic involvement with documentary filmmaking gave direction to his ensuing work. The element that most distinguishes the feel of his sparsely narrative films, similar to the cinema of Robert Breson, is described as a constant shift between the individual and the collective, the inner world and the external, the invisible and the visible, between simplicity and complexity. Kieslowski extracted the most out of what appears to be very little, talking of love, death and the significance of randomness. He frequently tried to answer the following question: What would life be like for an individual (or a group) if one small, insignificant daily event were to take a different turn? Kieslowski experienced the political turmoil of the 1970s, capturing its echo and the suffocating atmosphere of Poland in his films. His Polish period ended with «Decalogue,» a series of films made for television that were inspired by the Ten Commandments of the Bible. In the meantime, he also made two of the greatest gems of his filmography; the decidedly briefer «A Short Film About Killing» and «A Short Film About Love.» «Decalogue» came after the public outcry provoked by 1985’s «No End.» In a past interview, Kieslowski’s close friend and co-writer (after 1984) Krzysztof Piesiewicz, spoke of how they decided politics was not the way for them to go about describing the times they lived in. That was when Piesiewicz suggested that Kieslowski do «Decalogue,» which he described to his friend as 10 little stories to show modern man living socially, but with an individualistic morality. An overview of the Polish period The six digitally remastered films by Kieslowski, released in two special-edition collections by Odeon/Rosebud, are the most representative of the filmmaker’s Polish period: * «The Scar» (1976): His first feature film, in which an honest party executive is torn between his allegiance and corruption. * «Camera Buff» (1979): A worker’s passion for shooting amateur clips of daily life becomes a problem when he begins delving deeper into his subjects. * «Blind Chance» (1981): A study of randomness that presents three different versions of an event seen through the eyes of a student during the troubled 1970s in Poland. * «No End» (1984): A dead lawyer’s ghost guides his wife as she tries to defend his former clients, accused of belonging to the banned Solidarity movement. * «A Short Film About Love» (1988): A young mailman spying on an older woman living across the street tries to bridge the gap between them, but his habit of seeing her as a television image and hers of feeling like one are impossible to overcome. * «A Short Film About Killing» (1988): A Polish «Psycho» in which a young man arriving in Warsaw brutally murders a taxi driver without cause.

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