KRZYSZTOF KIESLOWSKI FEATURE
Juliette Binoche: ‘the best performance other career to date’.
Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colours: Blue is as emotionally stimulating as it is a ﬁne artistic achievement. Trevor Johnston met the Polish director and discovered that here is a body of work whose appeal goes beyond the arthouse pigeon-hole.
t was one of those cinematic experiences
l’ll remember for the rest of my life. In
December 1989, just after the piece had
won the first ever European Film Award.
the OFT screened Polish writer/director
Krzysztof Kieslowski’s A Short Film About Killing, an exploration of senseless murder and state-endorsed capital punishment which proved so powerful you could almost feel the audience being pinned back in their seats. Afterwards, in the foyer, people just stood there. grown men and women openly weeping — I’ve never seen anything like it, before or since — over the compelling truthfulness of what they’d just watched. Virtually unknown in Britain at that time, it was suddenly clear on that bitterly cold evening that here was a major ‘new’ European filmmaker to reckon with.
The intervening years have certainly endorsed such a judgement. A Short Film About Killing was followed by the almost equally striking A Short Film About Love, both pieces from
Kieslowski’s monumental Dekalog, ten 60- minute films for Polish TV, each of which considered the contemporary resonance of one of the Biblical Commandments. All human life was here. Poland’s ongoing political travails pushed to the background in favour of a forthright examination of the emotional and ethical conundrums that pursue us all. Love, longing, guilt, suspicion, hatred, faith: here was a filmic achievement almost without parallel. one which brought the thoughtful. bespectacled Warsaw resident to a new level of international acclaim.
What makes Kieslowski almost unique among the top ﬂight of today’s .moviemakers, however, is that you never know quite what to expect from him. The unfussy literalist style of the Dekalog
‘What does the concept of freedom really mean, not in terms of politics or society as a whole, but for the everyday individual? We say we want to be free, but do we really know what
that means?’ If
stones, for instance, has latterly been supplanted by the extraordinary quasi-mystical tone of The Double Life Of Veronique; and while talking to me recently in London came out with the surprise admission that, no, he didn’t really think much of his own ﬁlms and, yes, he hoped he could soon stop making them altogether. ‘l’d like to sit on a chair and smoke cigarettes,’ he sighed with the practised resignation of a born miserabilist. ‘l’d just like to have a shelf with some books on it. And a bit of space to read. That’s all.’ His gloomy features, just visible through a thick fog of Polish tobacco smoke, only lit up significantly when room service brought him a double whisky. ‘I think I like my films a lot less than everyone else does,’ he reckoned, swirling the liquor round his glass.
In a way, though, you can understand why he’s unwilling, or perhaps unable, to give too much away, as his films are better expenenced than read about. His most recent release is Three Colours: Blue, the ﬁrst instalment in a new triptych loosely based around the French tricoleur’s emblematic notions of Liberty. Equality, Fraternity. White and Red are to follow next year, but in the meantime Juliette Binoche turns in the best performance of her career to date as Julie, a young woman who loses her composer husband and her young daughter in a car accident. In the aftermath of this tragic event, she tries to withdraw completely from all that her life used to be, finding a new hideaway ﬂat where she can cocoon herself away from the everyday world entirely. Yet the inevitable intrusion of other people and her persistent recall of the music (another overwhelming score by Veronique’s Zbigniew Preisner) her partner was writing at the time of his death mean that the whole process of slipping quietly away can’t quite be achieved as seamlessly as she expected.
‘What does the concept of freedom really mean, not in terms of politics or society as a whole, but for the everyday individual: that’s what the ﬁlm’s about,’ explains Kieslowski after a deep drag on his cigarette. ‘Does it, can it actually exist for us all? We say we want to be free, but do we really know what that means? I thought it was necessary to consider the position that we’re really setting traps for ourselves, that we’re in a kind of prison. In Blue, the prison is a mattter of Julie’s emotions and her memories. She tries, but she can’t escape from them.’
His point is further illustrated by a passage from Kieslowski on Kieslowski, a recent and very welcome addition to the excellent Faber series where leading filmmakers provide a detailed commentary on their own work. ‘To love is a beautiful emotion,’ he says, ‘but in loving, you immediately make yourself
while having these beautiful
lot ofthings which go against your own grain. That’s how we’ve understood freedom in these three films. On the personal level.’
the presentation and distribution of Kieslowski’s ﬁlms
make them so-called ‘arthouse’ 6’ '
The List 5—18 November I993 9
dependent on the person you love. ' You do what he likes, although you 5 may not like it yourself, because ' you want to make him happy. So, '
feelings of love and having a person you love, you start doing a