DOUBLE LIVES, SECOND CHANCES

THE CINEMA OF KRZYSZTOF KIESLOWSKI

Annette Insdorf
Hyperion, New York.


Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk

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This is an updated edition of a book first published in 1999, about the acclaimed Polish director who achieved world renown late in his career with Decalogue (1988). The updating is basically a 20-page postscript dealing with the influence of Kieslowski on later films.

The author, who knew Kieslowski, is a professor in the graduate film division at Columbia University. As the book’s title suggests, she concentrates on the director’s constant themes of the role of chance and fate in the lives of his characters: how small chance (or fated) events can profoundly affect our future, and how two people unknown to each other can be intimately connected. Typical of the “role of chance” idea is Blind Chance (1982), where the fraction of a second between just catching and just missing a train totally alters the protagonist’s future life (a theme copied in the 1998 British film Sliding Doors), while typical of the “intimate connections” idea is The Double Life of Veronique (1991), where the soul of the Polish Veronika seems to transmigrate on her death into her French double. In all Kieslowski’s later films people’s lives interconnect, even if they never actually meet; for example see Three Colours Red (1994) where Valentine and Auguste often appear in the same scene but never meet, along with the main protagonists of Blue and White (1993), until the very end. A more complex example is Decalogue, where central characters from each of the ten parts often have fleeting walk-on roles in other parts.

The author gives numerous examples of these themes, and the chapter on Decalogue, which is 55 pages long, is particularly interesting in this regard. She also has a couple of amusing stories about the invented composer Van Den Budenmayer, whose music (actually written by Zbigniew Preisner) features in several films: he found his way into a Dutch encyclopaedia, while Preisner was threatened with a legal suit for stealing Van Den Budenmayer’s music and claiming it as his own!

Double Lives, Second Chances is an interesting and fairly comprehensive book; the Postscript is specially worth reading, and many of the films mentioned are unknown to me. The most enticing-sounding is Photographer (1998), a documentary by Dariusz Jablonski who was an assistant director on Decalogue, and it would be nice if it could be made available outside Poland.

I would make two points not mentioned in the book. First, a minor character who makes four brief appearances in The Double Life of Veronique, credited I think as “woman with hat”, strikes me as significant, as she seems a malign influence on Veronika and is clearly there for a purpose. Secondly, a remarkable near-coincidence which Kieslowski would surely have relished: Kieslowski and Andrei Tarkovsky were arguably the two finest East European directors in the last third of the 20th century; they were both “spiritual” film-makers, and the Pole certainly admired the Russian (he listed Ivan’s Childhood among his ten favourite films). They both died in hospital following operations, Tarkovsky in 1986 aged 54 years, 8 months, and 25 days, and Kieslowski in 1996 aged 54 years, 8 months, and 16 days. Were they somehow soulmates, like the two Veronicas?

Alan Pavelin
 
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