Krzysztof Kieślowski

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MichaelB
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Re: Krzysztof Kieślowski

#126 Post by MichaelB » Fri Sep 01, 2017 6:35 am

Before the Rally (Przed rajdem, 1971)

You’d think that a film about two rally drivers (Krzysztof Komornicki and Blazej Krupa) preparing to race in Monte Carlo would offer a significant change of pace for Krzysztof Kieślowski, but in fact it’s an almost perfect sequel to Factory in that it shows that the drivers' ostensibly glamorous lives are in fact just as dominated by bureaucracy, pointless meetings, equipment shortages and arbitrary output figures as is a tractor factory. Indeed, the behind-the-scenes discussion is shot more or less identically, to the point where you could probably intercut this material with the equivalent footage from Factory and it would be some time before anyone noticed.

The central problem, as everyone involved is clearly fully aware, is that the Polish Fiat 125 car simply isn’t up to the task allotted to it, but the factory supremo adamantly says that he’s not prepared to modify the entire factory to improve the car just for the purpose of a single event, however welcome the publicity. As a result, despite various jerry-built solutions (as ever, Kieślowski has nothing but respect for those on the front line) it comes as little surprise that the car is disqualified before the end of the race, for failing to complete certain parts of the course within the allotted time limit.

It’s well worth noting that despite the fact that both Factory and Before the Rally were made and funded by Poland’s Communist regime, both films are highly critical of Poland’s dysfunctional economy in a way that certainly wouldn’t have been possible twenty years earlier, when Socialist Realism reigned supreme and the kind of material that Kieślowski was shooting would never have got past the censors. We have a tendency in the West to assume that filmmaking under Communist regimes was much of a muchness throughout their existence, and that repressive censorship was de rigueur, but these films and many others being made at the same time prove that this was very far from the case. Indeed, Polish documentary-makers were often at the forefront of such criticism, which is one of the reasons they were regarded with unusual respect compared with other filmmakers, and why people like Kieślowski initially regarded documentaries as being the noblest calling that anyone in his profession could aspire to.

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Re: Krzysztof Kieslowski

#127 Post by knives » Fri Sep 01, 2017 10:36 am

zedz wrote:I'm sorry, did you think I was arguing with you?
I couldn't figure out any other utility for the comment.

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Re: Krzysztof Kieślowski

#128 Post by MichaelB » Fri Sep 01, 2017 10:44 am

Zedz was talking about the circumstances via which Kieślowski might be remembered. It's wildly unlikely that anyone outside Poland (at least not those who follow documentary festivals) would have heard of, say, Marcel Łoziński, Wojciech Wiszniewski, Danuta Halladin, Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz, Jacek Bławut and many, many others if it hadn't been for those PWA packages.

Of course, it's possible to argue - and pretty convincingly at that - that it was Kieślowski's films and comments that acted as the main gateway into this field: he famously nominated Kazimierz Karabasz's The Musicians as one of his ten greatest films in 1992, a time where people would have been likely to pay a great deal of attention to his Sight & Sound list purely because he'd just fully emerged as a big international name. A decade or so later, many Kieślowski DVDs included his early documentaries as extras. As with people discovering György Ligeti's music via 2001 (a near-universal experience, unless you're seriously interested in the Hungarian avant-garde), it's overwhelmingly likely that most people's first experience of Polish documentary-making would be one of Kieślowski's films: that's certainly true in my case, and it's also why PWA sensibly made Kieślowski the subject of their first release. But effective distribution and public awareness-raising is all about seizing opportunities like this.

For a parallel example, see The Shop on the High Street. Hardly anyone outside Czechoslovakia knew that its national cinema was then in the very early stages of an almost unparalleled creative outpouring, but when that film won 1965's Best Foreign Film Oscar (and was the first to do so from a country other than France, Italy, Sweden or Japan, newsworthy in itself), it suddenly turned a bright international spotlight onto what was happening there. Would Czechoslovak films have been Oscar-nominated for the next three years in succession (including another win, for Closely Observed Trains) if it hadn't been for that early hit pointing the way? Would Miloš Forman have had an international career? We simply don't know - but it obviously didn't hurt.

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Re: Krzysztof Kieślowski

#129 Post by swo17 » Fri Sep 01, 2017 11:09 am

Although to zedz's point, if, say, Wiszniewski or Dziworski had been the gateway, people discovering Kieślowski's documentaries from that vantage point might have been underwhelmed.

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zedz
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Re: Krzysztof Kieślowski

#130 Post by zedz » Fri Sep 01, 2017 4:11 pm

MichaelB wrote:Before the Rally (Przed rajdem, 1971)

You’d think that a film about two rally drivers (Krzysztof Komornicki and Blazej Krupa) preparing to race in Monte Carlo would offer a significant change of pace for Krzysztof Kieślowski, but in fact it’s an almost perfect sequel to Factory in that it shows that the drivers' ostensibly glamorous lives are in fact just as dominated by bureaucracy, pointless meetings, equipment shortages and arbitrary output figures as is a tractor factory. Indeed, the behind-the-scenes discussion is shot more or less identically, to the point where you could probably intercut this material with the equivalent footage from Factory and it would be some time before anyone noticed.

The central problem, as everyone involved is clearly fully aware, is that the Polish Fiat 125 car simply isn’t up to the task allotted to it, but the factory supremo adamantly says that he’s not prepared to modify the entire factory to improve the car just for the purpose of a single event, however welcome the publicity. As a result, despite various jerry-built solutions (as ever, Kieślowski has nothing but respect for those on the front line) it comes as little surprise that the car is disqualified before the end of the race, for failing to complete certain parts of the course within the allotted time limit.

It’s well worth noting that despite the fact that both Factory and Before the Rally were made and funded by Poland’s Communist regime, both films are highly critical of Poland’s dysfunctional economy in a way that certainly wouldn’t have been possible twenty years earlier, when Socialist Realism reigned supreme and the kind of material that Kieślowski was shooting would never have got past the censors. We have a tendency in the West to assume that filmmaking under Communist regimes was much of a muchness throughout their existence, and that repressive censorship was de rigueur, but these films and many others being made at the same time prove that this was very far from the case. Indeed, Polish documentary-makers were often at the forefront of such criticism, which is one of the reasons they were regarded with unusual respect compared with other filmmakers, and why people like Kieślowski initially regarded documentaries as being the noblest calling that anyone in his profession could aspire to.
I just watched this as one of the films I hadn't already seen in the new Documentarist set. It seemed like a typical Kieslowski workplace documentary, and typically good. He structures the film around a focal character (the supervisor / eventual driver) but that character doesn't really serve as a protagonist in any conventional sense of the word: we don't get any real sense of him as an individual, and it's never his story that we're following, always just the story of the enterprise in which he's involved.

Formally, there's a lot of Kieslowski's characteristic (for his documentaries) use of close-up, but more than that, I get a sense (without going back to document this in any rigorous way) that the camera is always consistently closer to the subject than classic style would call for, even when this doesn't amount to a close-up. For instance, the colour shots of the car driving through snow seem to be shot with a long lens, crushing depth, and even when we can see all of the car, we don't get a good look at its surroundings, let alone where it is in the landscape. Likewise, in the factory, we tend to be in the midst of the action, without establishing shots to give us a breather. It's a good way of conveying the constant pressure of the crews' deadlines, just as the throwaway title announcing their failure is an ideally anticlimactic means of conveying the dramatic anticlimax.

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Krzysztof Kieślowski

#131 Post by MichaelB » Sat Sep 02, 2017 6:22 pm

Between Wrocław and Zielona Góra (Między Wrocławiem a Zieloną Góra, 1972)

“Masses of films like that were being made at the WFD [the main documentary studio] at the time. I didn’t particularly want to, but it wasn’t a shameful thing to do. It’s a profession - film director. Sometimes you just have to render some services. It was boring, far more boring than anything else I’ve done, but I could live because of it.” (Krzysztof Kieślowski, Kieślowski on Kieślowski)

This film and its companion-piece Principles of Safety and Hygiene in a Copper Mine (Podstawy BHP w kopalni miedzi) are the exact equivalents of The Seafarers in Stanley Kubrick’s output: they were made purely to put food on the table (in Kubrick’s case, to claw back funds lost on Fear and Desire) and both filmmakers dutifully turned in perfectly competent but totally anonymous pieces of work that did little more than fulfil the commissioning brief. I was only able to track down copies in unsubtitled Polish, but I’d be surprised if the commentary contained much in the way of nuances that I may have missed - although it is at least apparent from the framing device of a young miner writing a letter about his profession (effectively to the viewer, since he goes on to narrate the film) that Kieślowski’s instinctive respect for the worker remains well to the fore. A recruitment film made on behalf of the Lubin copper mine, it stresses both the well-regulated working conditions and ancillary bonuses available to miners, including flats, schools for miners’ children, numerous leisure facilities, and extensive on-the-job training.

The fact that it was shot in colour (a first for Kieślowski) is merely the most obvious way that it contrasts with his earlier work: in terms of content it also couldn’t be more different from the likes of Factory, Before the Rally or the filmed but as yet unshown Workers 1971: Nothing About Us Without Us. In line with the commissioning brief, Kieślowski presents a vision of an idealised workers’ Poland that isn’t at all far removed from Andrzej Munk’s similarly wide-eyed Destination Nowa Huta! (Kierunek - Nowa Huta!) two decades earlier, and just as fond of visual cliché - he even has a young couple gazing skywards, before cutting to the hot-air balloon that they’re watching. Although not an explicitly Socialist Realist film like Munk’s, it’s cut from the same cloth, and I’m sure Kieślowski was fully aware of this at the time.

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Re: Krzysztof Kieślowski

#132 Post by MichaelB » Sun Sep 03, 2017 7:19 am

Principles of Safety and Hygiene in a Copper Mine (Podstawy BHP w kopalni miedzi, 1972)

The second of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s commissioned industrial films pretty much delivers on the promise of the title. It’s the exact equivalent of the instructional films that the National Coal Board was making in Britain at the time, and I’d guess from the return to black and white that Kieślowski encountered similar problems to his British counterparts when it came to effectively lighting underground - Wolfgang Suschitzky, who shot many NCB films, said that high-speed black-and-white stock was often the only viable way of being able to film anything, since elaborate lighting setups were completely out of the question in a dangerous, potentially gas-filled underground environment.

It’s a tribute to the film's visual eloquence that it’s easy enough to follow even in an unsubtitled version: Kieślowski typically uses freeze-frames to illustrate all the mistakes that a careless copper miner might conceivably make during a typical working day. At the start, they’re handed out numbered identification tags (presumably, if morbidly, to help identify corpses in the event of a disaster), smoking is completely forbidden, and appropriate clothing has to be worn at all times, even down to underwear. Lamp batteries must be checked above ground, and a montage of regulatory noticeboards confronts miners as they descend beneath the surface.

Underground, the barrage of safety rules is even more relentless, and with good reason - although unlike some of the gorier NCB films like the almost exactly contemporaneous Man Failure (1971), Kieślowski prefers cartoon illustrations to demonstrate what might go wrong, including miners being electrocuted, buried in a rockfall, beheaded, losing a limb or even being completely sliced in two after misjudging a short cut. The music occasionally hints at a suspense-thriller ambience as the protagonist (as before, Kieślowski focuses on a single miner's viewpoint) walks along possibly unfamiliar tunnels, warning signs confronting him at every turn, but these pleasures are strictly fleeting, and the rest of the film focuses on good workplace practice, be it coupling trucks or shovelling in close proximity to fast-moving industrial machinery. Like its companion piece, the film does its job, Kieślowski clearly earned his fee - and, thankfully, moved on to more stimulating projects.

(NB: The 16m24s version on YouTube is truncated at the end. The invaluable Film Polski database gives an impressively precise 20m52s as the full running time, which means that even after a framerate adjustment to make the YouTube version run 17m5s at 24fps, that’s still nearly four minutes missing. However, based on Kieślowski's other commissioned film and the stated purpose of this one, this footage almost certainly comprised more of the same sort of thing.)

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Re: Krzysztof Kieślowski

#133 Post by MichaelB » Mon Sep 04, 2017 6:50 pm

Refrain (Refren, 1972)

At less than ten minutes, this was the shortest of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s professional films to date, and returns to the territory of his 1966 film-school project Office (which was never intended for public consumption and which wouldn’t be commercially released for decades) in that it’s a depiction of the way that bureaucracy can render even the most heart-rending human stories into dry facts and figures, albeit not without a certain amount of ghoulish humour along the way (“No offence, sir, but at an undertaker’s establishment we sincerely hope not to see you again”).

It’s set in a municipal funeral home, and the opening shots of passports and identity cards being stripped of key features (such as the photograph) set the tone perfectly, as do the meticulous breakdowns of exactly where each złoty goes when totting up the final bill (“Transport is 8 złotys per kilometre, but we only charge one way”), the patient explanation of why cloth-covered sawdust makes a perfectly good substitute for a purpose-designed, but much more expensive headrest, or deadpan responses to off-the-wall enquiries (“We don’t sell graves to the living - only with a death certificate directly prior to the funeral. True, in the past one could buy oneself a grave, or build oneself a tomb or a monument - but not any more”). Meanwhile, as regular glances out of the window attest, life goes on as people wander along the street without a care in the world.

Unlike Office, the visual focus here is almost exclusively on the faces of the various funeral home employees - we barely see or hear their clients, presumably out of tact. With few exceptions, they seem a remarkably good-natured bunch, although given their profession and indeed the widespread Polish propensity towards gallows humour, that’s perhaps not surprising. Tellingly, at the very end, a baby is born - and immediately tagged with its own identification number, which it will need up to the very end of its life. Welcome to the system.

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Re: Krzysztof Kieślowski

#134 Post by posto » Sat Mar 17, 2018 6:48 am

Ran across this mega-set: Krzysztof Kieślowski: Antologia filmowa Wydanie Kolekcjonerskie
36 DVDs (too bad these are not blus)- pretty much almost everything by Kieslowski.
Hefty price - Gandalf is the cheapest I found - they accept Paypal and ship to US.
I haven't used Gandalf before - I don't know how reliable are they.

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Re: Krzysztof Kieślowski

#135 Post by MichaelB » Sat Mar 17, 2018 6:58 am

Going from the typeface and the publisher, I think this is a sequel to last year's even bigger Andrzej Wajda box - in which case the discs are likely to be 100% English-friendly (extras and all), but the hefty book will be exclusively in Polish.

Although unlike the Wajda box, I'm not sure this is really worth the investment unless you don't have much of this stuff already. All of Kieślowski's theatrical fiction features bar Camera Buff are already available on English-friendly Blu-ray, and virtually all the non-fiction work is very easy to get hold of on DVD, most of it in the recent restorations. Going down the list, the only three titles that I don't already have English-friendly commercial DVD releases of are Between Wrocław and Zielona Góra, The Principles of Safety and Hygiene in a Copper Mine and Legenda. Also, most of the extras have already appeared on British and American releases.

I daresay there's a possibility that the likes of First Love, Personnel and The Calm have been restored since the Arrow Blu-ray of Dekalog was put together (I know The Calm has been at least), so there'll be a slight quality bump there, but a fair number of these discs will be a downgrade of what I already have.

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Re: Krzysztof Kieślowski

#136 Post by dda1996a » Sat Mar 17, 2018 7:59 am

Where were pre Dekalog work released on Blu Ray except for Blind Chance?

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Re: Krzysztof Kieślowski

#137 Post by MichaelB » Sat Mar 17, 2018 8:14 am

Poland. I have English-subtitled copies of The Scar, Blind Chance, No End and both the Short Films (Killing and Love).

Throw in this DVD box set of the bulk of the documentaries (this set, unlike the older PWA edition, consists of new restorations), the Artificial Eye or Criterion editions of the four late features and Arrow's Dekalog box (for the five TV movies), and you'll end up with the overwhelming majority of the contents of the new box (including many of the extras), much of it on Blu-ray, for a fair bit less money.
Last edited by MichaelB on Sat Mar 17, 2018 8:48 am, edited 7 times in total.

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Re: Krzysztof Kieślowski

#138 Post by dda1996a » Sat Mar 17, 2018 8:35 am

What's the PQ, and I see there are no extras?

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Re: Krzysztof Kieślowski

#139 Post by Pepsi » Mon Mar 26, 2018 1:03 pm

Poland. I have English-subtitled copies of The Scar, Blind Chance, No End and both the Short Films (Killing and Love).
I bought the LOVE in SteelBook. Very odd. Total black steelbook without any pictures or text, not even on the spine. Only a slipcover with the information, and artwork.

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Re: Krzysztof Kieślowski

#140 Post by dadaistnun » Mon Dec 23, 2019 1:10 am

I watched No End for the first time in 20+ years today. This was the third Kieslowski I saw, after seeing Blue in its theatrical release, and Veronique soon afterwards. I remember watching it alone on Christmas, appropriate I suppose, since the film takes place at that time of year (the car that has the collision with a bus has a Christmas tree tied to the roof). Maybe the circumstances of that viewing were not ideal, as I remember thinking it was very good, albeit incredibly bleak, and I didn’t feel the need to revisit it, even after catching up with Dekalog and its partner films. I bought the six Kino discs when they came out, but No End was the only one of the bunch I didn’t watch.

Revisiting it now, it feels like as major a work for Kieslowski as the more regularly feted films. Considering it essentially ushers in the last decade of his career, with this being the first film made with both Piesiewicz and Preisner, I’m a little surprised it’s not more widely discussed. Despite the nominal similarities to Blue, which this often is called a dry run/preliminary version of, for me it occupies territory closer to The Calm, Blind Chance, and A Short Film About Killing in its merging of the political and the personal, and how it can be well nigh impossible to separate the two, as well as a look at how hard it is to stay true to an ideal when outside forces seem to necessitate an alternate path. The trial ends about as well as can be expected, but everyone left in the courtroom after the verdict looks defeated.

Regarding the ending:
SpoilerShow
How are we to read Ulla’s ultimate decision? There are no simple answers of course, especially in the well of grief one finds oneself in after unexpectedly losing a loved one. Is this her way of staying true to Anton after seeing where compromise got her husband’s client? A realization that she might not be strong enough to see her son through an unknowable amount of time under martial rule, and that he might be better off with his paternal grandmother who presumably helped raise her son, his father, to fight more strongly for what is right than even the father’s mentor (played by the wonderful Aleksander Bardini) is able or willing to do?
Jacek Petrycki’s cinematography is excellent, capturing the coldness of the homes we see and yet also delivering great beauty in the scenes at the church, particularly the shots of Grazyna Szapołowska (who is as good here as she is in A Short Film About Love) lighting the candles and looking directly into the camera. I also loved the tracking shot that follows her up the stairwell when she returns to the hypnotherapist. Given how many times he worked with Kieslowski, I’m surprised Petrycki didn’t work on Dekalog.

Really wish Preisner’s score was available. Could really go for a second disc of Dekalog/Short Film cues, too.

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Re: Krzysztof Kieślowski

#141 Post by dda1996a » Mon Dec 23, 2019 1:26 am

Don't forget Camera Buff, which is not only one of his best, but shares those same themes you mentioned as the other four films.

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Re: Krzysztof Kieślowski

#142 Post by dadaistnun » Wed Mar 25, 2020 12:07 pm

Krzysztof Kieślowski Archives online

Even if you can't read Polish, there's a lot of great photographic items to check out, including some adorable shots of Kieślowski & his wife, and extensive on-set photos from Three Colors.

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Re: Krzysztof Kieślowski

#143 Post by Stefan Andersson » Sat Jul 18, 2020 12:55 pm

An article on Decalogue VI, including this interesting statement: "the Third Commandment is omitted in the series, whereas the Tenth is split into two films".
https://culture.pl/en/work/a-short-film ... kieslowski

Scroll down for more articles on Kieslowski films.

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Re: Krzysztof Kieślowski

#144 Post by The Pachyderminator » Sat Jul 18, 2020 8:51 pm

Stefan Andersson wrote:
Sat Jul 18, 2020 12:55 pm
An article on Decalogue VI, including this interesting statement: "the Third Commandment is omitted in the series, whereas the Tenth is split into two films".
https://culture.pl/en/work/a-short-film ... kieslowski
Not exactly. There are multiple ways of enumerating the Ten Commandments. Decalogue, naturally enough for a Polish film, follows the one that's commonly used by Catholics. There's identifiably a one-to-one correspondence between the ten episodes and the commandments in the Catholic list, though for a few of the episodes the connection is a little ambiguous.

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Re: Krzysztof Kieślowski

#145 Post by Stefan Andersson » Sun Jul 19, 2020 10:31 am

The Pachyderminator wrote:
Sat Jul 18, 2020 8:51 pm
Stefan Andersson wrote:
Sat Jul 18, 2020 12:55 pm
An article on Decalogue VI, including this interesting statement: "the Third Commandment is omitted in the series, whereas the Tenth is split into two films".
https://culture.pl/en/work/a-short-film ... kieslowski
Not exactly. There are multiple ways of enumerating the Ten Commandments. Decalogue, naturally enough for a Polish film, follows the one that's commonly used by Catholics. There's identifiably a one-to-one correspondence between the ten episodes and the commandments in the Catholic list, though for a few of the episodes the connection is a little ambiguous.
Thank you very much for the link and your comment! Very interesting!

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