Krzysztof Kieslowski (1941-96): a short appreciation of greatness

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Indy Lifestyle Online
DEATH IS such a factor - and fascination - in the films of Krzysztof Kieslowski that it is hard not to console ourselves at the loss of this great film-maker by entertaining the fancy of death being merely a field trip for one more metaphysical masterpiece. Death haunts Kieslowski's movies with a numinous beauty: the Polish Weronika, in The Double Life of Veronique, dying while singing in full, magnificent voice; the strangely radiant suicide attempts, such as the wrists seeping red in A Short Film About Killing. Of the different endings of Blind Fate, which traced three possible outcomes of a man's rush to catch a train, Kieslowski preferred the one in which the man died in a plane crash. It most pleased his pessimism - and was "anyway, ultimately inevitable".

Kieslowski was that rare thing, an invigorating pessimist and a philosopher as much in love with beauty as with ideas. His films tackled the big issues, in as frank and yet unassuming a way as his titles suggest: A Short Film About Love, A Short Film About Killing (which showed with unflinching clarity the horror of taking a human life). He could create with a few strokes dramas that were ravelled up with moral complexity. Despite the weighty "themes" - the Three Colours trilogy's study of liberty, equality and fraternity or the Decalogue's of the Ten Commandments - the films were not narrowly theoretical. They used the old apophthegms to launch into deeply felt human inquiries.

And he filmed these profound ideas in images of transcendent beauty, with a grave, watchful camera that seemed in awe of the mystery of the world. Even the dourest of scenes - the housing site of the Decalogue; the brown-filtered waste of A Short Film About Killing - through his humane eyes had a limpid grace. No one in the history of film has photographed women so rapturously - not even Josef Von Sternberg. Filming Irene Jacob (Veronique and Red), Juliette Binoche (Blue) and Julie Delpy (White), Kieslowski caught not only the elegance of their bone stuctures but also the radiance of their souls.

I interviewed Kieslowski for this paper in 1993, and I would be lying if I said that I had a thigh-slapping time. He was an austere, even severe man, courteous yet also contrary. But I admired the steely integrity that rejected the gushing media game. The depth, quality and curiosity of his mind were never in doubt. At the time of his death, he was working on another trilogy, about heaven, hell and purgatory. If cinematic achievements hold any sway with the powers that be, he should already be scouting the first of those locations. QC