As we mark the 25th death anniversary of Krzysztof Kieślowski, here is to a director who was way ahead of his time, a man the world of film shall miss for eternity.
Different people in different parts of the world can be thinking the same thoughts at the same time. It’s an obsession of mine: that different people in different places are thinking the same thing but for different reasons. I try to make films which connect people.
The Polish director made numerous documentaries, feature films, and television films which hit the screens in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. He explored social and moral themes of contemporary times in a way perhaps no one else has been able too.
Kieślowski studied theatre technology in Warsaw, and in 1968 he graduated from the State Theatrical and Film College in Łódź, Poland. He began his film career making documentaries, including one he had made for Polish television before graduating, Zdjęcie (1968; The Photograph).
His first significant film was Murarz (1973; The Bricklayer). It is a story of a political activist. However, soon disappointed with politics, the man returns to his former profession of bricklaying.
The documentary short Z punktu widzenia nocnego portiera (1979; From a Night Porter’s Point of View) is centred on a watchman with a totalitarian view of the world.
He also dabbled into the socio-political arena, creating the Three Colours trilogy, as a joint effort with Piesiewicz.
It represented the colours of the French flag: Bleu (1993; Blue), Blanc (1994; White), and Rouge (1994; Red); respectively. Each of these films explored the themes of liberty, equality, and fraternity.
The films were released several months apart and although each can stand on its own, they were designed to be seen as a single entity.
One theme, the frailty of human relations, emerged from the lonely awakening in Blue and permeated the grim humour of White before providing the symbolic epiphany in Red. Kieślowski was nominated for an Academy Award for best director for Red.
The Labour Market and Welfare
Another notable documentary of his was Szpital (1976; Hospital), in which he employed a hidden camera to reveal problems within the Polish health care system.
Blizna (1976; The Scar) was Kieślowski’s first theatrical release; it focused on management-labour relations within Polish industry.
Making films on film
He caught the world’s eye with Amator (1979; Camera Buff), an autobiographical work about an aspiring documentary director who learns the consequences of artistic expression.
With Przypadek (1987; Blind Chance), he experimented with narratives, following three fateful directions a medical student’s life may take as he rushes to board a train.
Dekalog (1988–89; Decalogue), cowritten with Piesiewicz, is a series inspired by the Ten Commandments and made for Polish television. Each of the 10 episodes have a running time of approximately an hour. Each one explores at least one commandment, without explicitly naming them. It provokes the audience to identify the moral or ethical conflicts in the plot.
The series was shown in its entirety as the centrepiece of the 1989 Venice Film Festival and is considered a modern masterpiece of cinema.
Two of the episodes were expanded into feature-length films: Krótki film o zabijaniu (A Short Film About Killing) and Krótki film o miłości (A Short Film About Love), both of which were released in 1988.
Here is what he said, which is perhaps equally treasurable.
You make films to give people something, to transport them somewhere else, and it doesn’t matter if you transport them to a world of intuition or a world of intellect…The realm of superstitions, fortune-telling, presentiments, intuition, dreams, all this is the inner life of a human being, and all this is the hardest thing to film… I’ve been trying to get there from the beginning. I’m somebody who doesn’t know, somebody who’s searching.