(Air Date: Week Of 03/20/96)
The brilliant Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski, who died of heart failure in March at the age of just 54, was far and away the most important filmmaker of the post-Iron Curtain era. As Eastern Europe swung to a radically different beat in the late '80s, he was there to represent the promises and insecurities of the new world order. His greatest films, notably "The Decalogue," an amazing ten-part series inspired by the 10 Commandments and made for Polish television, boasted an unblinking moral awareness tempered with compassion, dry humor and lush craftsmanship.
Kieslowski, who came of age in Poland when freedom was a pipe dream and got his start making documentaries, was always a political filmmaker. His early films, such as "Camera Buff" and "Blind Chance," challenged the state's unquestioned authority and malignant abuse. All ten chapters of "The Decalogue" were set in and around a dreary, soulless Warsaw housing project, implicitly indicting the government for its callous disregard for its own citizens. And his most recent works, "The Double Life of Veronique" and the "Blue," "White" and "Red" trilogy, which won Kieslowski his reputation in the United States, subtly contemplated the fate of Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Kieslowski didn't separate the political from the personal, and his great gift was the ability to tell intriguing, character-driven stories that never devolved into polemics. Kieslowski was fascinated by the random yet inevitable intertwining of seemingly different lives. Was it chance or choice that determined the direction and meaning of our lives? the filmmaker asked with extraordinary intelligence from a dozen directions. He once told an interviewer, "Through my films, I'd like to heighten sensitivity to certain realities--although people often don't know what to do when faced with them."
Kieslowski's movies boasted stunning photography, exquisite music and the world's most gorgeous women. Amazingly, he utilized these most beautiful elements of filmmaking to explore postmodern malaise. Somehow, as contradictory as that sounds, he pulled it off.
Kieslowski had announced his retirement from filmmaking after completing the "Three Colors" trilogy, declaring his intention to fill his hours with books, cigarettes and coffee. Most observers of the international cinema scene were skeptical, anticipating that one day Kieslowski would return with another impeccably crafted meditation on the personal and political absurdity of contemporary existence. But the fates deemed otherwise, and the loss is ours.
Copyright 1996 Michael Fox
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