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 Post subject: Re: 837 Dekalog
PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2017 10:36 am 

Joined: Sat Jan 14, 2017 3:04 pm
MichaelB wrote:
...he "deserves to die" - at which point Kieślowski grabs the audience by the collective scruff of its neck and says "Look, this is what 'capital punishment' actually means. Aside from being more polished and professional, what's the essential difference between it and what you witnessed earlier?". And I'd argue that it's by avoiding the usual manipulation that the film achieves its cumulative power: because it doesn't fall back on the usual clichés - indeed, because it seems to be consciously undermining them at every turn - the viewer can't ever relax.


I have to agree with Michael B here. Having seen this (uncomfortable) film a few times now, both versions, I can honestly say I never once thought of the killer as handsome. If anything he seems nihilistic to an extreme. I also never once had a remote thought that the cab driver was getting "comeuppance" or something remotely like it. That the cab driver is a somewhat irritating person is beside the point, or rather, that it is beside the point is the point: anyone getting murdered is problematic for Kieslowski. Which is why Michal B's point above is true: Kieslowski wants to show that both of the killings (ritualistic as they might be), whether sanctioned or not, are completely immoral. I'm not sure any "relativism" could be interpreted here, though I'm very intrigued by that interpretation if it can be explained further. It certainly would be an interesting way to look at some films based on a very rigid code of morals. Maybe part of the issue with Kieslowski is that he seemingly presents the ideas clearly: here are ten films loosely following the Ten Commandments; here are three films about Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity; of course it's ever quite as simple as that.

As for the love film, I think I posted above that it's really a lust film, and in this case it does follow the commandment and even some Gospel edicts almost literally, and as a film about warped love and lust its characters are clearly acting irrationally (or perhaps they're sort of living relativistic-ally while not aware they're in such a rigid universe?). But as I mentioned earlier Kieslowski uses certain ideas almost as starting points and templates for him to then play around and sometimes even throw us off our expectation. The first time I saw the movie I was surprised by Magda's response. Actually, my first viewing of that film I thought it was pretty well-crafted, suspenseful, and surprising--and it still holds up as top-notch K.

I hadn't fully considered Michael B's point that the woman in this film, Magda, is also living a fantasy life of sorts. Her surprising response to the peeping of Tom might just cynically be taken as someone who enjoys being watched. If that's the case then it is a kind of immaturity. Furthermore, often in these films situational irony is part of the point: the characters themselves aren't aware of the moral universe they're living in. Magda is more practically experienced than Tomek, and she's not a creepy stalker, but beyond that I don't know what else we're getting from this character. The issue with this film is not that it presents voyeurism as a form of love and if it is an issue then Vertigo is also guilty. In both cases voyeurism ultimately equals obsession and possession.

As for the arguments about Kieslowski's aesthetics, or lack there of with some apparent sloppiness, it seems to me like he's in total control. The mix of images and music are undeniably his and his crew. In Kieslowski on Kieslowski I think he even mentioned how he didn't feel like he filmed Poland as bleak as it really was (none of the long waits at the grocery).

As an aside, I will have to briefly disagree with Michael B about Blue and Red (the former I think of as one of Kieslowski's weakest, though the latter is admittedly my favorite film of all time). In some ways I think of the former as an anti-European art film. Just like with Dekalog, he takes a certain set of ideas that are supposed to be the subtext of the film, and plays them either straight forwardly or ironically, sometimes both. Blue is a mix of mourning, egotism, and frustration. It's a tough film in a way, emotionally perhaps, and it's the Kieslowski I revisit least frequently. And as you said, I wonder if the hype surrounding it was too much and if any revisits have changed your opinion at all on these. As for Red, I'll be brief and probably superficial, but for me every aspect of that film, its form and content, come together in a way that expresses Kieslowski's themes, which are still handled with a deft touch and some nuance, though maybe some here find them superficial.


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 Post subject: Re: 837 Dekalog
PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2017 11:48 am 
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In all fairness, I should add that I've only seen Red the once, way back in 1994, and I probably should give it another look - especially now that I've seen virtually everything that Kieślowski made right down to The Principles of Safety and Hygiene in a Copper Mine (his exact equivalent of Stanley Kubrick's The Seafarers, and with a similar level of artistic interest!).


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 Post subject: Re: 837 Dekalog
PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2017 11:57 am 
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Considering I find Blue by far the best of his films that I've seen, that it's being ranked so low by his self-professed fans shows that what others get out of his films are not the same as what I'm looking for!


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 Post subject: Re: 837 Dekalog
PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2017 12:37 pm 
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First I want to say thanks for continuing this talk which obviously accomplishes nothing new for you, but helps me better define my opinion.
MichaelB wrote:
knives wrote:
I figure what you have said is his goal, but the film, in the short at least as I haven't seen the feature, gives the audience a lot to grab onto in that scene so as to make his death horrible. Perhaps I should have been more clear in saying that the handsome killer with a backstory comes into play in the film's second half, but I figured that would have been assumed. Making the cabbie unlikable is the only thing off putting about the initial act rather than allowing it to speak to its own brutality.

I'd have thought a rather bigger thing that's "off putting" about the initial act is the fact that it's a grotesquely prolonged act of cold-blooded murder! So much so - and I think this is very much Kieślowski's argument - that it quickly becomes irrelevant what sort of person is on the receiving end: we may initially feel a vicarious thrill that he's receiving his "comeuppance" (as though being murdered was in any way an appropriate response for a few unpleasant gestures), but as the murder goes on and on and on we're much more conscious of living in the here and now, of actually watching a flesh and blood human being having the life slowly and agonisingly snuffed out of him. Same with the killer's backstory later on: it's inadmissible as evidence, and has no impact on the implacability of the judicial execution, except as a suggestion that mid-1980s Warsaw is such a grim and oppressive place that it's hardly surprising that it turns people into psychopaths.
Fair enough on the term off-putting, though I meant that it was off putting to that goal of creating horror at the killer. Running a bit with the nihillistic quality Johnshade mentions, I took that characterization to be a punker gone wrong, like the nastier flipside to the second hero of episode ten. That with some of his interactions with the locals builds him as a dangerous, though in some ways likable figure. Mentally I keep returning to Lorre in M who likewise gets a lot of sympathy even before his big speech, but never through the sort of cute little punkish interactions on display here like the window or the aloof manner of ordering the creampuff. It forces a necessary contrast to the cabbie who never gets these human little moments leading him to seem like an example of unlikable bad against the killer's likable bad. This seems further cemented in each one's death scene as the killer collapses and cries showing himself as human, while the cabbie (though I admit this is totally logical and thus not a real complaint; just an example of characterization) commits to an animalistic survival mode. He doesn't really become the human in the now you mentioned so much a character trying to escape the sentence passed from his very first frame. Returning to your actual point, yeah the length of the killing makes it really gross and disturbing in a way more successful than Hitchcock's similar attempt in Torn Curtain, but for me it never achieved this place you suggest of circumventing characterization into pure humanistic pity. Whether that's a failure of the film or me I'm not sure about and I suspect that watching the long version will clarify matters significantly.

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This might be a good time to also refer to your HBO response, but to be clear I didn't mean modern HBO, but their productions contemporary to this film. If that's still not fair though how about comparing to Alan Clarke who certainly worked on small budgets and not even this series' 35mm and yet managed a much better aesthetic than the episodes I was referring to here, which obviously doesn't include episode five.

"A much better aesthetic" is subjective and therefore meaningless. Alan Clarke is a wholly different type of director from Krzysztof Kieślowski, and I can no more imagine him directing Blind Chance[/i), [i]The Double Life of Véronique or the early documentaries than I can imagine Kieślowski making Scum or The Firm. I suspect you're drawing these largely meaningless comparisons because you watched the Clarke and Kieślowski boxes in fairly quick succession.
Yes, likewise I nearly mentioned Kiarostami due to quick succession, but ultimately decided it better not to Godard myself on this one. All the same I wasn't trying to compare directorial worth as your bringing up theatrical films suggests, but that working low budget in the confines of European television is not an excuse for inarticulate filmmaking. I could have just as easily mentioned After the Rehearsal and it would have made my point equally. That Clarke was so talented in using the limitations as a plus without the benefit of having previous theatrical releases only further cements my point I think.

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That aside done Clarke's own film against judicial killing, To Encourage the Others seems to have integrated its sympathies better than five. It still does a lot in the back half to make the one to be hanged sympathetic, but doesn't work up moralistic excuses for the killing.

I have read a great deal of critical appraisal of Dekalog Five and A Short Film About Killing over the last three decades, and you are honestly the only person that I've come across who thinks that making the taxi driver unpleasant constitutes "working up moralistic excuses for the killing". Kieślowski is doing no such thing - indeed, I suspect he'd be horrified that someone interpreted his film along those lines.

Instead, I'd argue that although To Encourage the Others is a very fine piece of dramatic narrative, it ultimately exploits the same clichés as most other anti-capital punishment polemics (admittedly Clarke was hamstrung by the fact that this was a true story), whereby the executed murderer was only peripherally involved with the capital crime, and whose innocence might have come through more clearly within a less vengeful system. Kieślowski is doing the exact opposite: his killer is as guilty as hell (and how!), and therefore in the eyes of the Polish judicial system at the time, he "deserves to die" - at which point Kieślowski grabs the audience by the collective scruff of its neck and says "Look, this is what 'capital punishment' actually means. Aside from being more polished and professional, what's the essential difference between it and what you witnessed earlier?". And I'd argue that it's by avoiding the usual manipulation that the film achieves its cumulative power: because it doesn't fall back on the usual clichés - indeed, because it seems to be consciously undermining them at every turn - the viewer can't ever relax.
Fair enough, though I think that only proves my counterexample as a bad one rather than refuting that Kieslowski accidentally comes across as moralistic.

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I feel like I've expanded on the substance a little hopefully negating that feeling somewhat. I thought my comment on aesthetic was a small portion of my whole post, but in case not I'm open to more talk. This is the earliest I've gone with Kieslowski aside from a few shorts so I do hope your substance comment proves as true for me as it does you. As it stands so far I only like the episodes I cited, episode ten, and Red.

Well, Red to me was one of his most disappointing films, where he fully embraced what to me has always been a rather empty European "art-movie" feel to no particularly distinctive effect. I wasn't overly keen on Blue either (and I entered the cinema seriously expecting one of the most mindblowing cinematic experiences of my life) - in fact, of the last trilogy, I only really liked White, which has become more resonant over time thanks to its incisive portrait of the dog-eat-dog atmosphere of immediately post-Communist Poland, most likely because it has much more in common with Kieślowski's earlier work. Going from interviews, I think he knew how much he'd lost by leaving Poland, although he had the noblest methods for doing so: after Communism, film funding virtually collapsed and he was one of the few Polish filmmakers who could plausibly get international support - but in so doing, he had to jettison what made his earlier Polish films so distinctive.
I will say that after watching Ten which I feel shares a lot of DNA at least with my memory of White I'm keen to revisit it to see if my opinion goes higher. At the time it was the only one of the trilogy I was indifferent to.

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I think my main problem with six is that it on one hand excuses some really awful behavior by the boy romanticizing his attempt while on the other the woman never seems to be engaged with as real. That makes sense when we see everything through his eyes, but when she takes the lead her superficial presentation does not change as well. It is almost like his dream of her finally realizing he is so super. It is just a toxic idea of love to me.

Amusingly, you've absolutely nailed what the film is about while at the same time thinking that it's some kind of defect. In fact, Toxic Ideas About Love would be an entirely plausible (if commercially off-putting) title - the whole point of the film is that both the central characters, regardless of their age and experience, have deeply warped impressions of what constitutes "love", and at the very end he's arguably the more grown-up of the two. At the time, I much preferred the very different ending of the longer version, but Kieślowski always preferred the shorter one, and in retrospect I can see why: its abruptness is a very effective dramatic equivalent of the moment that virtually all of us has experienced when we suddenly find out, quickly and usually harshly, that our fantasy about a particular relationship doesn't remotely chime with the other person's, and most likely never will.

But I totally disagree that we never interpret Magda as "real" - on the contrary, I think both Kieślowski and Grażyna Szapołowska do an amazing job of creating a complex, nuanced character despite the challenge that she's mostly viewed inaudibly from a distance in the film's early stages.
Well, I suppose I have to wait until I can compare with the long version to give a good response and hopefully it is an agreeable one.


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 Post subject: Re: 837 Dekalog
PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2017 3:11 pm 
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domino harvey wrote:
Considering I find Blue by far the best of his films that I've seen, that it's being ranked so low by his self-professed fans shows that what others get out of his films are not the same as what I'm looking for!

I consider Blue the only great film in the final trilogy, but like Michael I'm much more partial to his earlier, more grounded Polish films. My response to Red was very similar to Michael's. It's an impressive feat of filmmaking, but it takes his metaphysical concerns so far into arthouse-cutesy territory that it all feels gauche and rigged (and I could kind of buy all of Mr. Fate's contrivances in the second half of Veronique, though it's the Polish section that really sells that film.)


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 Post subject: Re: 837 Dekalog
PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2017 3:13 pm 

Joined: Sat Jan 14, 2017 3:04 pm
I think the only sympathy for the killer in Dekalog 5 is in the final moments before he is executed, when certain aspects of his family life are revealed. Other than that any sympathy for this character really comes from the lawyer's impassioned stance against capital punishment. The final moment in the car is a pretty powerful one: frustration at such an injustice, made more powerful precisely because the killer had been depicted as such a lowlife. The mood of the film, at least the way I'm looking at it, never establishes him as some type of cool, off-beat punker or Alex from A Clockwork Orange. I can't quite agree with the contrast you describe, "as the killer collapses and cries showing himself as human, while the cabbie (though I admit this is totally logical and thus not a real complaint; just an example of characterization) commits to an animalistic survival mode." Well, in the former case the killer knows he is about to die, so he cries moments after having a genuine conversation with the lawyer, something unthinkable earlier in the film but deserved here; in the latter it is a random act of murder after a drive to the middle of nowhere. Both of you are quite right that the length of it and the methods add to the level of brutality (plus the radio...little details)--it's an almost unwatchable scene for me because it is powerfully gruesome, not cheap violence.

domino harvey wrote:
Considering I find Blue by far the best of his films that I've seen, that it's being ranked so low by his self-professed fans shows that what others get out of his films are not the same as what I'm looking for!


I think I probably shouldn't have used "weakest" and Blue in the same sentence. But yes, for whatever reason it just doesn't do it for me the way White and Red do...or Double Life, Love, Killing, Blind Chance, ok you get the point. (It seems clear we can all agree that White and Red are worth a revisit!)

Also, Kiarostami is probably a good point of comparison, even if I'm being somewhat surface level here. Certified Copy is both playfully mimicking European art films while simultaneously picking at them in a way that Blue and White, especially the latter, do. It's an outsider entering the world of European art films and so we truly get a unique kind of take. Kieslowski claims that the Contempt poster was just chance, but come on...there's something more to it. The "equality" in White is simultaneously a riff on out of control mobbish capitalism replacing a morally and literally bankrupt communism and a critique of the xenophobia still lurking in Europe (oh yeah, this film still really works now). Not to mention it's a pretty funny movie in an oafish, cruel kind of way.


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 Post subject: Re: 837 Dekalog
PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2017 3:29 pm 
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On Dekalog 5/A Short Film About Killing, I'd only add that there seems that intentional contrast between the detailed, personalised up close and excrutiating strangling of the taxi driver contrasting against the coldly dispassionate execution by the state. There is the focus on details such as the taxi driver's shoes twisting off set against the tray underneath the noose to catch any urine, or worse, from the body as it dies. Its sort of about the individual monstrous one-off crime (for little or no acceptable reason) contrasting against a steady stream of acceptable institutional death (for dubious reasons in which this is one statistically insignificant processing in the larger system of things).

I also occasionally wonder whether Crime and Punishment was an inspiration for the piece too. There's something Dostoyevskian about the whole series in some ways.


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 Post subject: Re: 837 Dekalog
PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2017 4:59 pm 

Joined: Tue Oct 27, 2015 6:14 am
I guess it's down to personal taste and where you started with Kieslowski. I started by accident with Blue (saw a film titled Three Colors:Blue being shown on TV, asked my father if it is worth a watch and the rest is history) with each film in the trilogy building esteem, which manifested with the brilliance of Red. I just don't find the points everyone is accusing it, having seen Blind Chance recently I find it a very good dry run for the metaphysical wonder of everything and including Dekalog. Still haven't seen anything except Pedestrian Subway from his early films but I consider Red one of my all time top ten films (with Veronique and Dekalog really close by, haven't watched Blue and White since I started getting into art cinema) but it's the way Kieslowski manages to mix both personal fascination with the minute, with chance and the unknown connections around us that always sells me on Red. And Irene Jacob has never been more beautiful than in Kieslowski's films (or for that matter Binoche and Delpy)


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 Post subject: Re: 837 Dekalog
PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2017 6:38 pm 

Joined: Sat Jan 14, 2017 3:04 pm
zedz wrote:
My response to Red was very similar to Michael's. It's an impressive feat of filmmaking, but it takes his metaphysical concerns so far into arthouse-cutesy territory that it all feels gauche and rigged (and I could kind of buy all of Mr. Fate's contrivances in the second half of Veronique, though it's the Polish section that really sells that film.)


This film keeps getting the criticism of "art house" which seems somewhat vague to me; I suppose we could say the same to Bergman, Fellini, et al., but I do think it's legitimate to look at it and think it is "rigged" or suffers from a contrived set-up. I'll start by saying that an aspect I love about Shakespeare, Dickens, and Nabokov, which Kieslowski shares, is an emphasis on doubling, coincidences, connections, etc. I accept these investigations into coincidences and patterns and the thematic results that are produced. Zedz point is accurate that there's something contrived about it, so maybe it is a matter of personal taste. I'm also fine with Mr. Fate, or Prospero's work at the end of the film--we've seen plenty of art-house films with bleak endings. Like dda1996a, I prefer the Jacob performances the best out of the French language films and I also like the ruminations on "chance" and "unknown connections". Kieslowski said the film is about "the conditional mood"--it's also a very quiet film that takes its time with some conversational scenes, gauche-y or gracefull-y.


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