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The Complete Kieślowski 8 – Dekalog 1 and 2

Matt and Travis are excited to kick off our first multi-part series on one work: Kieślowski’s legendary Dekalog television miniseries. For the first episode, we welcome Josh Hornbeck, host of the forthcoming Criterion Channel Surfing podcast, to discuss the first two episodes in the series.

Initially intended to be directed by separate up-and-coming directors through Kieślowski’s production studio, the Dekalog was fully filmed by the director after he became attached to the material through writing the scripts. He did employ different cinematographers on nearly every episode, however, and we discuss the strikingly different look of these first two films, along with the complex moral and philosophical questions raised by each. Dekalog was a massive leap for Kieślowski both in terms of artistic expression and international acclaim. These first two episodes start off with an emotionally powerful one-two punch, packed with complex symbolism and incredibly sophisticated interwoven thematic motifs, making this episode a real pleasure to record. We hope you enjoy part 1 of 6 on this towering work of cinema.

The Complete Kieślowski 7 – No End

Matt and Travis welcome Caitlin, the host of Her Head in Films, to discuss Kieślowski’s final film before creating the internationally acclaimed Dekalog series for Television, 1985’s No End. Released in the wake of a two-year period of martial law in Poland that marked the end of the Solidarity breakthroughs of 1980-81, the film was largely panned by the political establishment and resistance in equal measure, though Polish audiences who were able to see the movie (despite marketing sabotage designed to limit its success) responded enthusiastically to its depiction of the national state of affairs.

No End is notably different from Kieślowski’s previous films in a number of apparent ways: this is his first female protagonist, the only movie so far to feature supernatural elements on screen (rather than conceptually supernatural structures as in Blind Chance), and his most mournful and defeated tone. But it is also a departure behind the scenes, as the director began working with his two most significant collaborators here: Krzysztof Piesiewicz, a lawyer he met while filming a never-completed documentary would go on to co-write all of his subsequent films, and Zbigniew Preisner, the composer who would score them all. Their effects on the director’s work are already apparent here, but they would fully blossom in the decade to come.

The Complete Kieślowski 6 – Blind Chance

Matt and Travis are joined by Martin Kessler of Flixwise and Flixwise Canada to discuss Kieślowski’s shelved 1981 theatrical feature Blind Chance. Like Short Working Day, Blind Chance was never shown publicly before being withheld from circulation, a victim of the crackdown that culminated in martial law at the end of 1981. Only after Kieślowski gained international recognition in 1987 was the film released in the West in censored form. Finally, the censored content was almost entirely restored in home video with the release of the film on blu-ray from the Criterion Collection.

Blind Chance announces its departure from Kieślowski’s previous films in in the first ten minutes, where he plays with time and memories and uses more composed images with evolving perspectives under classical compositions. These are all elements that Kieślowski will return to later in his career, when he fully sheds his documentary background and embraces a controlled metaphysical style. Yet the director is still focused on Polish politics and the landscape of his country and how it impacts the average (young male) citizen. In this episode, we discuss this hinge in his career, along with the high concept of the film and how it informs his chief concerns of the personal vs. the collective and questions of freedom and control/destiny.

The Complete Kieślowski 5 – Short Working Day

Matt and Travis welcome Matt Schlee from Cineccentric to discuss the fifth feature in Kieślowski’s filmography, Short Working Day.

In 1981, Kieślowski made two films that would be immediately shelved and go unreleased for years: the theatrical feature Blind Chance (which was also censored even its eventually released version) and the made-for-Television feature Short Working Day. The latter film would be shown sporadically in clubs or special screenings, but Kieślowski himself prevented its release even after the fall of Communism, and the film wasn’t shown on television as was originally intended until after his death in 1996.

The airdate was 20 years after the central event upon which Short Working Day was based took place, the 1976 workers’ revolt in Radom, Poland, following a government announcement that food prices would be nearly doubled across Poland. The politically charged subject matter makes the film’s shelving seem almost preordained, but Kieślowski himself ended up unhappy with the results, feeling that people would get an unintended message from his film if it were shown in wide release; he also found it be, similar to The Scar, poorly directed and acted and generally useless. We disagree, however, and try to make this case that far from being a blight on Kieślowski’s catalog, Short Working Day represents another key building block in his career.

The Complete Kieślowski 4 – Camera Buff

Matt and Travis welcome Will Remmers to the show to discuss Kieślowski’s second theatrical feature and four feature overall, 1979’s Camera Buff. After The Calm was shelved, Kieślowski carried on with his documentary work, producing I Don’t Know (which he voluntarily shelved to protect the subject), From a Night Porter’s Point of View, and Seven Women of Different Ages. The latter two are only 15 minutes, but I Don’t Know is essentially a 45-minute monologue from a former Party official who had his life destroyed when he tried to clear out corruption at a glove factory. The film is hugely illuminating in the context of Kieślowski’s 70s narrative work, and it can be found on this wonderful compilation of Kieślowski’s documentary work, which is a must own for any fan of his films.

As for Camera Buff, the film picks up where The Calm left off, a Jerzy Stuhr plays a man who has fulfilled his dream of a wife, a house, a television, and now a daughter, born at the beginning of the film. But this domestic bliss is interrupted immediately when he buys a camera to document his daughter’s life and quickly becomes obsessed with the device, much to his wife’s chagrin.

This discussion will contain spoilers after the first thirty minutes or so, and the film will be available when the Criterion Channel launches in early April.

The Complete Kieślowski 3 – The Calm

Matt and Travis welcome the all-powerful voice and cinematic insight of Mr. Mark Hurne, co-host of Close-Up and regular on Criterion Now, to discuss Kieslowski’s second full-length made-for-TV feature and third overall feature, The Calm.

The Calm was made almost immediately on the heels of Kieślowski’s debut theatrical feature in 1976 for Polish Television. However, the film was immediately shelved because of the depiction of a strike, which at that point in Poland was both illegal and portrayed by the Party as non-existant. It wasn’t shown on television until 1980, a couple of weeks after Solidarity broke through.

We ultimately decided to include the film in this slot because it is truer to the intention of The Complete, where we look at a director’s full work in chronological order to chart their development as an artist, rather than to simply walk through the films at their official release by an arbitrary date.

We begin the episode spoiler free and discuss Kieślowski’s short documentary Hospital, which was made in between the two features, before going into the film’s political nature, the remarkable performances at the center of the film, and the movie’s function as a bridge between Kieślowski’s early realist work and his later metaphysical explorations.

The Complete Kieślowski 2: The Scar

Travis and Matt welcome Jon Laubinger, host of fellow 25th Frame show Film, Baby, Film, to discuss The Scar, Kieślowski’s second feature-length film. The Scar was Kieślowski’s first feature film for theaters, as Personnel had been made for television. Although it was fairly well-received, including two awards at the Polish Film Festival, Kieślowski was extremely down on the film later in life, calling it “badly made.” It’s not uncommon for filmmakers to dismiss their early films – in Kubrick’s case, he actively tried to prevent Fear and Desire from ever being shown – and it’s not worth taking into account someone’s negative attitude about work made when they were much younger and, from their perspective, much less wise and experienced. Regardless of his own feelings for the movie, there’s plenty of value here for any Kieślowski fan, and the movie represents somewhat of a bridge between the director’s more documentary friendly aesthetic of his early narrative work and the magical realism of his later dramas.

We open by briefly discussing our relationship to Kieślowski’s films before diving into the movie, especially how Kieślowski presents his central protagonist, the film’s use of secrets, and its political intentions.

The Scar is currently only available on an OOP Kino DVD box and a DVD from Artificial Eye in the UK. It will be regularly available on the Criterion Channel when it launches in April. In light of this, our discussion begins spoiler free.

The Complete Kieślowski 1: Personnel

Season three of The Complete begins with the first full-length film made by Krzysztof Kieślowski, the made-for-TV 72-minute feature Personnel. We begin by discussing the director’s reputation and give a brief overview of his early life, time at the Łodz film school, and early documentary work. We also discuss the short narratives he made prior to Personnel, Pedestrian Subway and First Love, both under an hour.

Born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1941, Kieślowski died from failed open-heart surgery in 1996 in the same city. His birth and death virtually bookended the communist era in Poland, and his early documentary work presents this era’s tumultuous and dreary struggle. Personnel in many ways feels like the culmination of his early 70s work, and it kicked off his path toward one of the most heralded careers in cinema.

Note that Personnel is currently difficult to find – it appeared on Arrow’s Dekalog set, which is no longer available. For that reason, we’ve kept the first part of the discussion spoiler free.

Thanks to Julian Wass for the new (and old) opening music, Doug McCambridge for the awesome new logo, and Ericca Long for her soothing 25th Frame send off!