Thursday, October 13, 2016

Krzysztof Kieslowski's restored "Dekalog" & Seattle Polish Film Festival at SIFF Cinema: Oct 14 - 23



Coinciding with the Criterion Collection's release of Janus Films restored blu-ray box set of the apogee in all Krzysztof Kieslowski's filmography of lives lived, loss, love and time, "Dekalog" returns to cinemas for the first time in almost two decades. The balance tread in the complexity of ambiguous moral tales from his Three Colors Trilogy is simultaneously expanded in scope and refined in the finesse of it's emotional precision in this ten-part abstract meditation on the Ten Commandments. Revisiting the furry of critical reception to the restoration and rerelease of the Three Colors Trilogy on both Mubi's Notebook and expansive, even daunting, coverage from some years back in the pages of The Guardian, may be the optimal point of entry in reassessing Kieslwoski's contribution to 20th Century cinema. The "Dekalog" is defined by collaborative firsts that would come to be central to Kieslowski's filmography. The cinematography of Piotr Sobocinski, composer Zbigniew Preisner and screenwriting from Krzysztof Piesiewicz, the then legal advisor for the Solidarity Movement and assistant to the successful prosecution of the murderers of Jerzy Popiełuszko. Piesiewicz had approached the director on his planned documentary on political "show trials" in Poland under martial law. Due to difficulties in accurately representing the judicial process, the two conceived to explore the legal system's effects on the lives of the Polish citizenry instead through the vehicle of fiction as seen in their first collaboration, "No End". Some three years later, after having returned to his legal career, it was Piesiewicz who proposed the exploration of their mutual interest in moral and ethical dilemmas in contemporary social and political life through the vehicle of the Ten Commandments.


Centering on the residents of a housing complex in late-Communist Poland, the ten short films charted the moral and philosophical complexities of their intersecting lives and the effects of social, economic and political conditions of then modern-day Warsaw. The sequencing of the episodes did not necessarily correspond to the order of the commandments, nor the commandments' literal interpretations. Each episode watched as essentially self-contained, able to be viewed in any order. Still, the movies are entwined in other ways, often in interrelationship of theme or mood, and the protagonists of one episode are not excluded from turning up as a bystander or supporting character elsewhere. Two of which, episodes five and six, were later adapted to feature length theatrical films, finally giving life to the full body of writing produced by Piesiewicsz as realized in "A Short Film About Killing" and "A Short Film About Love". The former not only winning both the Jury Prize and the FIPRESCI Prize at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival, but was influential in bolstering public consensus around the the abolition of the death penalty. The film most recently honored in 2014 by Martin Scorsese for its inclusion among 21 digitally restored classics in his touring exhibition of "Masterpieces of Polish Cinema".


Roger Ebert's extensive interviews with Kieslowski upon the series' North American Premier at the Toronto International Film Festival, "The Force of Chance: An Interview with Krzysztof Kieslowski", shows the director reflecting on the tense sociopolitical climate of late Communist era Poland. Kieslowski calling his homeland; “a country of suffering people whose lives are very difficult. That in turn is very inspiring. The extremity of our daily life makes everyone so incredibly nervous. We are aching so much, like a person who fell from a set of stairs and everything hurts him.” It is in such a socio-political climate that Kieslowski and Piesiewicz have constructed their ten part exploration of what the Village Voice's Bilge Ebiri calls the irreducible, unresolvable messiness of life, "Thou Shalt Behold Kieslowski’s 'Dekalog,' Returning with its Full Mystery and Power". In Stanley Kubrick's 1991 forward to Faber & Faber's "Dekalog: The Ten Commandments", the director asserts that; "By making their points through the dramatic action of the story [Kieslowski and Piesiewicz] gain the added power of allowing the audience to discover what's really going on rather than being told. They do this with such dazzling skill, you never see the ideas coming and don't realize until much later how profoundly they have reached your heart." These technical and thematic premise explored further in Paul Coates' "And So On: Kieslowski’s Dekalog and the Metaphysics of the Everyday" for Criterion and NPR's "The Dekalog: A Haunting, Ruminative 10-Film Tour through the Ten Commandments".


Concurrently, SIFF Cinema will again be hosting the annual Seattle Polish Film Festival, this year's programming coupe the exceedingly rare screening of "On the Silver Globe", a "Thwarted Sci-Fi Masterwork" by "Polish Cinema Rebel, Andrzej Zulawski Who Died this Year at Age 75". In addition, SPFF's program features not only the aforementioned, "A Short Film About Killing", but another piece from Kieslowski's later filmography and first film outside of Poland, "The Double Life of Veronique". Marking the beginning of his series of explorations of identity, love, social conscience and intuition set in mainland Europe, the film continues the director's work with cinematographer Sławomir Idziak. A collaboration begun on "A Short Film About Killing", their fruitful meeting would continue through Kieslowski's final Three Colors Trilogy. Idziak's luminous camerawork heightening the director's dialogue with metaphysics and science, with free will and fate, with the many ways in which indifference or cruelty rub up against empathy and compassion. Idziak will be present to host a Cinematographer's Workshop and offer perspective on his year's working with the director in SPFF's Discussion on Kieslowski. The musical scores are the second element comprising the dramatic axis of Kieslowski's later work. Recently in the pages of the Village Voice the composer, "Zbigniew Preisner Discusses His Longtime Collaboration with Krzysztof Kieslowski", and the music's role being central to expressing both reverie and conflict found in inexplicable life events and circumstance that define, "The Sonic World of Zbigniew Preisner and Krzysztof Kieslowski".