Sentient Cinema and the Kieslowski Sentiment
What does it mean to live, to be human, to have a soul, to feel? Neitzsche said that invisible threads are the strongest ties. What attracts us to the people we come to hold dear, love, and cherish? What propels us to act the way we do, and what determines the course and value of our time on earth? Is it truly us? Or is life a series of coincidences or simple executions of pre-determined fate? These are deeply existential questions, and Polish auteur, Krzysztof Kieslowski was a deeply existential person.
I seldom have the patience to deliberate on such dilemmas, and my distaste for philosophical discourse is not unfamiliar to those who know me. Yet, I found myself completely paralysed by the raw impact that Kieslowski’s work had on me. It is a marvel that this man who struggled to get into film school went on to create a series of films that acclaimed filmmaker Stanley Kubrick cited as the only masterpiece he had ever seen. To be human is a unique experience, personal and painful. Kieslowski was fascinated by humans, starting his career as a documentary filmmaker, focusing on people from all walks of life.
It’s an obsession of mine: that different people in different places are thinking the same thing but for different reasons. I try to make films which connect people. – Krzysztof Kieslowski
The director’s claim to fame and arguably, his best work, The Double Life of Veronique is centered on two women (played by Irene Jacob) born on the same day, in different countries, who share a strange, metaphysical bond. They are doppelgangers, not only in appearance but in behaviour and habits. Kieslowski simplifies this magic realist-sounding premise, with his meticulous crafting of each scene, and careful arrangement of characters and plots, to ultimately solace his audience that no one is alone in this world. Supplemented by formidable performances, and beautiful, melancholy background scores, his oeuvre serves to be a deep exploration of emotions. His cinema has a soul – it is not static or two-dimensional, but alive and ebbing with emotion; ever-changing, fleeting, and dissipating. His movies reflect his thoughts taking form, and follow them from genesis to execution. With every movement of the camera, every transient, undefined expression, each word uttered, and every detail, Kieslowski breathes life into his stories. Inanimate objects speak in his world – the head bust of a forlorn-looking woman in Three Colours: White and the puppets in The Double Life act as substitutes for characters, representatives of their conditions and feelings.
He [Kieslowski] is dealing with very abstract things in a very material and accessible way. – Geoff Andrew, film critic.
With Three Colours: Blue, White, and Red, Kieslowski takes the ideals of the French Revolution (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity) in a narrower sense, applying it to the person. Blue follows a recently bereaved woman (Juliette Binoche), who suddenly loses her husband and young daughter in a car accident. She seeks independence from her past and detaches herself from unbearable grief, but sorrow creeps up on her slyly in several instances. Similarly, in the second segment of the trilogy, Polish immigrant Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) wants to restart his life with a clean slate, only to find the strings of the past tugging at him. He wants to free himself from the humiliation of losing his marriage, career, and property all at once, and plots to earn back his social standing, through unscrupulous ways, even exacting revenge on the love of his life. But perhaps, love supersedes all forms of acrimony – in the last scene, as Karol sees his ex-wife (Julie Delpy) smile at him affectionately, he can’t help but tear up.
Kieslowski does not limit himself to the visual interpretations of colour, exposing its multisensory essence. Colour is an emotion, and a tool to isolate everything of significance- place, person, or object. It forms a critical part of our memory and perception of these three movies. He examines the interplay of coincidence, happenstance, intuition, and predestination and marvels at the ability of human connection and situation to bring together two people who are as different as can be. Red focuses on an unlikely kinship between a young model, Valentine (Irene Jacob), and a retired old judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant). The latter is despicable at first sight, a bitter man who spies on his neighbours’ telephone conversations to fill the voids in his life. With his angel-natured protagonist, Kieslowski demonstrates the transforming value of kindness and empathy and the sense of fraternity that lies in small acts of service and little words of admiration. In a plot line reminiscent of The Double Life of Veronique, the old judge and Valentine’s neighbour, Auguste share an eerie similarity in all major events of their professional and love lives, so much so that Auguste feels like a figment of imagination. He seems to be a personification of the judge’s unlived experiences, an alternate version that has the potential to undo the judge’s regrets and fulfill his desire for true love (which he contemplates could have been Valentine, given the correct place and time).
Repetitively, Kieslowski ponders on human relationships, self-exploration and growth, and above all, the irrationality of sentiment. He extends this intimacy to viewers, who end up immobilised with inexplicable whimsy and nostalgia. So, sit with a Kieslowski on a leisurely rainy day, with a lukewarm cup of tea, when you find yourself in the mood for feeling a lot.