For Reel


The Double Life of Veronique (1991)
March 27, 2012, 3:47 am
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Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski

Krzysztof Kieślowski first started making films in the mid-1960s. His early body-of-work is compromised of documentaries – shorts that concern industry, economics, class, and other various social problems facing Poland. Many of these themes would reverberate in his narrative work, such as his depiction of the hierarchy within the factory of Camera Buff. By the late 1980s, however, he underwent a remarkable shift, abandoning political themes altogether and instead discussing the mystical and the unexplainable. Perhaps no film is more demonstrative of the sensibilities of his late career than The Double Life of Veronique, one of his many masterpieces, and the last feature that he would make before undertaking the Three Colors Trilogy. The story is simple: two women, Weronika and Véronique, live in Kraków and Paris, respectively. They are identical, share a love of music, and seem to have a cosmic connection in which each one influences the other in unexplainable ways. As a study of identity, it is clearly Kieślowski at his most personal – this being a man whose late films were coproductions with France, having abandoned Polish social issues in his pictures entirely. More opaquely, however, it is one of the most profound and mysterious examinations of free will in the cinema. Take, for instance, a scene in which, after feeling humiliated by the puppeteer’s manipulations, Véronique flees and he proceeds to tail her. Noticing that he is following her, she successfully hides and watches him through a shop window as he fumbles on the street, having lost her. For a film very much about destiny and fate, this brief game of hide-and-seek is a moving moment of liberation – a simple gesture in which the character tests the limits of her own independence. Véronique’s final return to home is perhaps a parallel of this moment. She abandons nearly everything to join her father in the countryside – not defeated, but fully empowered, no longer a puppet.



A Short Film About Love (1988)
March 25, 2011, 5:09 am
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Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski

An extended cut of the sixth episode of the Decalogue series, A Short Film About Love is one of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s many masterpieces. A nineteen-year-old voyeur, Tomek, watches a beautiful older woman, Magda, in the apartment complex across from his. After confronting her, what ensues is a fascinating deconstruction of the nature of obsession and love, and the line (or lack thereof) that distinguishes them. Ironically, Kieslowski shows how Magda, previously the victim, becomes an obsessor herself, and with a point-of-view change the film fully articulates how Magda’s outlook on love is influenced by her relationship with Tomek. In this sense, Tomek can be considered a Christlike figure, complete with a metaphorical resurrection. The performances of Olaf Lubazenko, Grazyna Szapolowska, and Stefanie Iwinska as Tomek’s Godmother are all spectacular – particularly Szapolowska, whose character in lesser hands could have reduced the film to a chauvinistic tale of the cruelty of women and their dire need for a man’s affection. However, Szapolowska never compromises Magda’s dignity even at her most vulnerable, and it is because of her that the film’s delicate truths can unbridledly resonate.



A Short Film About Killing (1988)
March 25, 2011, 5:06 am
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Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski

Two episodes from Krzysztof Kieslowski’s oft-praised Decalogue series were expanded into feature films – A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love. The titular killing of the former references two murders which Kieslowski presents to be on an equally moral ground. In the first, a young delinquent, Jacek, ruthlessly kills a taxi driver without cause. After being sentenced to hang, the final scene documents his execution. Both of the deaths are played out in extensive length and detail and are daunting to get through. The murder of the taxi driver is familiar of Torn Curtain, wherein Hitchcock wished to present the difficulty it takes to kill a man, and the execution scene mirrors this mercilessness by depicting the mechanical preparation of the execution chamber. Slawomir Idziak, a frequent collaborator of Kieslowski’s who shot two of his masterpieces – Three Colors: Blue and The Double Life of Veronique – lights the film with strange green and rustic hues, which doesn’t take away from the gritty realism but rather sensationalizes the dreary ugliness of Jacek’s surroundings. Kieslowski’s inditement of the death penalty might have resonated more had he not tried to manipulate the audience’s sympathy by giving Jacek such a melodramatic backstory, but one has to praise the film’s achievement as a bitter, humanitarian outcry – while it is the mysteries of Kieslowski’s later films that often attribute to their power, this picture is unforgettable with it’s grim unambiguity.