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Przypadek, 1987
[Blind Chance]

LindaBlind Chance opens to a dissociated close-up shot of an anxiously screaming seated passenger named Witek (Boguslaw Linda): a jarring and ominous episode that is further reflected in a subsequent chaotic scene as bloodied casualties from an undetermined catastrophe are transported - often, haphazardly but swiftly - through the cold, antiseptic halls of a hospital emergency ward. The unsettling and turbulent images then give way to the fragmentary and more tranquil memories of a stern father overseeing his son's math homework exercises, the parting of childhood friends, an encounter with a genial family friend during an administrative meeting, and young lovers, Witek and Czuszka (Boguslawa Pawelec), walking alongside an isolated highway as revelers from a passing motorcar spout indelicate remarks at the unsuspecting couple. Years later, Witek, now a medical student, appears to have a brief moment of connection with a fellow student, Olga (Monika Gozdzik), before being thrown into personal crisis by the death of his emotionally estranged father. Unreconciled with the ambiguity of his father's parting words, Witek asks his instructor for a leave of absence in the belief that his father's enigmatic message has absolved him from following in his footsteps to become a physician. Now liberated from a sense of familial duty and unburdened by romantic entanglements, a hurried Witek purchases a last-minute student ticket at a station and frantically attempts to catch the departing Warsaw-bound train - an impulsive, yet seemingly innocuous act that would prove to have overreaching consequences and propel the adrift young man's ambivalent future.

Krzysztof Kieslowski creates a structurally bold and challenging, yet visually elegant and innately lucid exposition on fate, chance, and coincidence in
Blind Chance. Kieslowski experiments with elliptical, parallel narratives that depict seemingly mundane and anecdotal near encounters and synchronicity that would pervade his later work, most notably in The Double Life of Veronique and Three Colors: Red (note the image of matched hands separated by a window that prefigures the indelible image - and interconnected, but temporally non-coincident destinies - of Valentine and Joseph in Red) in order to create a thoughtful and provocative portrait on the malleability of fate. Note the literal and figurative divergence of Witek's existential paths after attempting to catch the train, and Witek's passing encounters with Czuszka, Werka (Marzena Trybala), and Olga during his youth that will be modulated by the consequences of Witek's actions to shape the course of his intimate relationships. Moreover, Witek's situational convergence at an international airport further implies a governing element of predestiny in everyday life. By presenting the mutable interconnection of fate, circumstance, and individual will, Blind Chance traces the complex and undefined, but ultimately inalterable trajectory of human destiny.

© Acquarello 2003. All rights reserved.

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Dekalog, 1988

Olbrychski The Ten Commandments, exact and uncompromising, literally cast in stone, continues to provide a source of moral conflict in contemporary society. In the ten part epic masterpiece, Decalogue, Krzysztof Kieslowski examines the dilemma of fundamental sin in the lives of ordinary Warsaw citizens. A scientist (Henryk Baranowski) puts his faith in science and logic to govern daily life (Decalogue I). A violinist (Krystyna Janda), unable to decide between her husband and her lover, defers the impossible decision to her husband's attending physician (Aleksander Bardini) (Decalogue II). A lonely woman (Maria Pakulnis) imposes on an ex-lover (Daniel Olbrychski) on Christmas Eve to search for her missing lover (Decalogue III). An acting student (Adrianna Biedrzynska) discovers an ominous letter from her father (Janusz Gajos) (Decalogue IV). A cruel young man (Miroslaw Baka) wanders through the streets in search of a random victim (Decalogue V). A young postal clerk (Olaf Linde Lubaszenko) falls in love with a neighboring artist (Grazyna Szapolowska) whom he admires from a distance (Decalogue VI). A struggling student (Maja Barelkowska) kidnaps her biological daughter (Katarzyna Piwowarczyk) (Decalogue VII). An ethics professor (Maria Koscialkowska) is confronted with the culpability of her actions when asked to harbor a Jewish girl during World War II (Decalogue VIII). A married couple (Piotr Machalica and Ewa Blaszczyk) learn to deal with the husband's impotence (Decalogue IX). Two brothers (Zbigniew Zamachowski and Jerzy Stuhr) inherit their father's priceless stamp collection (Decalogue X).

Defined as Kieslowski's experimental, transitional work for Polish television, Decalogue is, in itself, a monumental achievement: a remarkable examination of moral tale colliding, and often yielding, against the bounds of human frailty. Kieslowski crafts each episode with a distinctive signature, creating serenely indelible, spare, and poetic imagery: the dripping of candle wax against the icon of the Virgin Mary in Decalogue I; the point source lighting of Decalogue IV; the raw, monochromatic presentation (using sepia overlay) of Decalogue V; the saturation of colors in Decalogue VI; the perversion of physical exercise as self-punishment in Decalogue IX. Throughout the film, a ubiquitous, enigmatic man serves as a silent witness to the moral fissure, but remains uninvolved - a chronicler of humanity, an omniscient presence who does not pass judgment. Invariably, Decalogue proves to be a testament for the venerable director as well, a profound observation on the trials and tribulations of everyday life, reflected in complex ways - direct and abstruse - but all fundamentally, and infallibly, human.

© Acquarello 2000. All rights reserved.

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Krótki film o milosci, 1988
[A Short Film About Love]

LubaszenkoAn obscured thief breaks into a school gymnasium at night to steal a portable telescope from the science lab. On the following morning, the thief, Tomek (Olaf Lubaszenko) sets up the telescope on his desk, facing the window of his room, and across the courtyard into an adjacent apartment. Later in the day, an attractive, hurried woman named Magda (Grazyna Szapolowska) stops by the post office in order to claim a money order after receiving a notification in her mailbox, only to be informed by the attentive young postal clerk, Tomek, that there is nothing being held at the station on her behalf. Back home, Tomek sets his alarm clock to 8:00 pm, the approximate time of Magda's return home. Tomek would prepare his meals and dine in the privacy of his room, away from the curious gaze of his godmother (Stefania Iwinska), and spend hours observing Magda as she goes through the routine of her household tasks, often placing anonymous, silent telephone calls to hear the sound of her voice. However, his cursorily voyeuristic behavior towards Magda seems incongruously devoid of sexual connotation, as Tomek discreetly looks away from the all-too-frequent occasions when she brings home a lover, or attempts to sabotage her liaisons by dispatching interruptive repair service calls to her apartment. Painfully self-conscious and unable to express his affection for the uninhibited Magda, Tomek persists in his pathetic and reprehensible surveillance until one day when his overplayed false notification ruse results in an acrimonious altercation with the unwitting, skeptical postmaster.

An expanded, feature-length re-working of Decalogue VI: Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery from Krzysztof Kieslowski's magnum opus television project, Decalogue, A Short Film About Love is a sublime and provocative exploration on the nature of desire, connection, and intimacy. Interplaying colors of red and white, Kieslowski uses conventional visual symbols to convey the ideals of purity and love: the fragmented shot of a surgically bandaged hand; Tomek's reckless game of chance (which he performs over a piece of red cloth used to cover the telescope) that cuts to Magda as she traces figures over the spilled milk on her kitchen table; the painted glass block wall near the entrance of Magda's apartment that visually frames Tomek during his deliveries; the image of blood against a ceramic sink. Moreover, Kieslowski's allusive use of thematic colors in his subsequent films, Three Colors: White and Three Colors: Red, to represent equality (White) and fraternity (Red), is similarly manifested in the film as Tomek reaches a figurative equality with Magda after the transformative, humiliating encounter, and Magda (whose birth name, uncoincidentally, is Maria Magdalena) finds redemption from her wanton past through her connection with Tomek. In the haunting final sequence that markedly diverges from the resigned and disaffected conclusion of Decalogue VI, Magda is able to look through a metaphoric window into her own calloused, world-weary soul, and is provided with a glimpse of humanity that still remains intact.

© Acquarello 2003. All rights reserved.

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La Double Vie de Veronique, 1991
[The Double Life of Veronique]

JacobIrene Jacob is exceptionally captivating playing the dual role of Veronika, an aspiring Polish soprano, and Veronique, a French music teacher. The Double Life of Veronique is a highly cerebral story of two people who feel a profound connection with someone they do not know and have never met. We first meet Veronika in Poland: singing in a choir, meeting a lover, auditioning. She wakes up one evening from a strange dream, gasping, and tells her father that she believes she is not alone. She begins to suffer bouts of breathlessness. During her debut performance, she collapses on stage. We then meet Veronique in Paris: teaching music to young students, watching a puppet show, visiting her father at his country estate. When Veronique begins to receive mysterious packages from an unknown admirer, she believes that she is deeply in love, and that the source is the answer that would fill the inexplicable and sudden void in her life. However, as with life, illusion may be more intriguing, but proves fleeting. What remains is a profound revelation that leads her to an inevitable conclusion and closure.

The Double Life of Veronique is a highly provocative film that examines a soul's search for identity and connection. Kieslowski uses a sepia overlay on the film to create a monochromatic, almost ethereal atmosphere. The suffusive darkness achieved by this technique is a manifestation of the mystical and dreamlike elements of the story (note the similar effect achieved in Agnieszka Holland's Olivier, Olivier). As in Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker, the visual otherworldliness of the film is a representation of the exploration of the subconscious. Note the elements of fairy tales and vivid dreams in the film. The unfolding of the story is elliptical and obscure, as if the protagonist is reluctantly waking from a sweet, intangible dream. In fact, she is.

© Acquarello 1998. All rights reserved.

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Trois Couleurs: Bleu, 1993
[Three Colors: Blue]

Binoche Blue is a work of such eviscerating intensity that it is almost impossible to describe with words. For this reason, I cannot imagine anyone but Juliette Binoche playing the part of Julie Vignon de Courcy, the lone survivor in a car accident that claimed the lives of her husband, a renowned composer, and their young daughter. This is a devastating film that is not based on contrived dialogue, but on subtle actions. Julie's grief is so profound that she cannot cry, nor even feel. She seems cold and silent, indifferent to her loss. Yet her body language tells us that she is in pain. The corner of her mouth slightly quivers as she traces her daughter's casket through a television set. Her body goes limp when she approaches the doorway of her husband's study. Her gaze turns protective and territorial when a neighbor touches a blue crystal mobile that once hung in her daughter's room. Unable to live in the country estate with her painful memories, she abandons all of her possessions to start a new life. But physical distance cannot sever her from her past, withdrawing further into her grief, locked in enigmatic silence. Her husband's business partner, Olivier (Benoit Regent), searches for her, offering a means of paying tribute to her husband's legacy by collaborating on his unfinished reunification symphony, and attempts to bring closure.
Blue is a beautifully realized, intimate, and intensely personal film on the process of healing and catharsis.

The use of blue imagery in the film is, paradoxically, the most elemental and most abstract of the colors in the trilogy. Indeed, blue is the color associated with grief. However, Kieslowski uses suffering as a means to illustrate the theme of cathartic liberation. Julie's periodic swims in the pool (which appears blue at night), completion of her husband's unfinished symphony (with a blue pen), and transfer of their country estate to his mistress (who is expecting a boy) are all symbolic acts of closure. Blue stands for liberté, or liberty,in the French flag. There is freedom in having nothing. There is also freedom in losing everything.

© Acquarello 1997. All rights reserved.

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Trois Couleurs: Blanc, 1994
[Three Colors: White]

DelpyWhite is a fascinating, dark comedy about obsession, revenge, and redemption, replete with subtle irony. It is also a disturbing portrait of the price exacted when a soul is consumed by its own destructive passions. Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) is a broken Polish immigrant whose beautiful French wife, Dominique (Julie Delpy), publicly humiliates him in a French courtroom during their divorce hearing. While panhandling on a Paris subway, he meets a fellow countryman, who would later become his most trusted confidant. They are both melancholy and want to go home. Through a series of fortuitous, albeit sinister events, Karol returns to a corrupted, post-communist Poland. Through illicit means, he sets out to make his fortune, and attempts to reclaim his life and love. White is a highly engaging film about complex human emotions. It is also Kieslowski's personal statement on the disintegration of his beloved homeland. There are several bittersweet moments when a tormented Karol watches his beloved from a distance. It is as if Karol, like Kieslowski himself, realizes that he can never go home again.

Kieslowski's achronologic use of flash forwards and flashbacks illustrates the film's underlying theme - resurrection (note the similar effect achieved in Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru). Karol flashes back to his wedding day, with an image of his bride in a white wedding dress, during the divorce proceeding. There is a glimpse of Dominique in a white room... Is Karol also recounting the episode in his mind? Time is deliberately obscured; events seem cyclical. It is a story that begins with an end, and ends with a beginning.

© Acquarello 1997. All rights reserved.

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Trois Couleurs: Rouge, 1994
[Three Colors: Red]

Red is an intricately constructed parable on the need for connection and the complexity of fate. Valentine (Irene Jacob) is a model whose vacuous existence is disrupted when chance intercedes and, one evening after a runway show, runs over a German shepherd. She meets the dog's owner, Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a reclusive, retired judge. We later see that the seemingly misanthropic judge has been intercepting the telephone conversations of his neighbors, and amplifying them through his stereo. Through a series of peripheral characters and events, we gain insight into the judge's traumatic past, and a sense of the universality of isolation. It is not accidental that the deepest secrets of the human soul are revealed in moments of absence and separation. But Red is also a love story - a deep intimacy that is cerebral and not corporal. There is an especially poignant scene where the judge, inside the car, places the palm of his hand onto the window, and Valentine, outside, presses her hand against the glass, to match his. It is obvious that they are deeply in love, but are separated by invisible barriers. This is a film of intoxicating beauty and profound revelation that continues to unfold long after the conclusion.

The suffusive use of red throughout the film has an overwhelming intensity reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman's Cries and Whispers. Red is the color of love and blood - life and death. Kieslowski uses the color to portray a contemporary liebestod. Valentine is Joseph Kern's "breath of life". She is the catalyst that can awaken his hollow soul, heal his callous heart, and, in the midst of tragedy, find closure. The element of chance is a recurrent theme in Kieslowski's films (note the near encounters in The Double Life of Veronique). Valentine methodically places a coin in a newsstand slot machine every morning. Two lovers decide what to do for the evening by tossing a coin. The judge tells Valentine, "Perhaps you're the woman I never met." It is a powerful device in the master's hands - a means to explore the need for connection - to find Joseph Conrad's proverbial secret sharer of one's soul. The idea that chance can cause happiness as easily as it causes pain, unite or divide, bring love or loss, is a profoundly unsettling thought.

© Acquarello 1997. All rights reserved.

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