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10 Days of Krzysztof Kieślowski: Documentaries and Shorts 1966-1980

Wednesday 13th March 2019 will mark 23 years since the passing of one of cinema’s greatest film-makers – and one who deserved that tag without question. Krzysztof Kieślowski played the rich, unforgettable game of human chance in his motion pictures, telling stories of the ordinary people that turned out to be effortlessly extraordinary.

But the Polish creative force would likely be the first to disagree that his filmography was consistently remarkable. He was open about that longing to capture on film what formed in his mind and heart. We, loving his films unconditionally, would in turn disagree with him, and to say, that not many can capture such wonder on film so intricately and true.

10 Days of Krzysztof Kieślowski (Monday 4th March – Wednesday 13th March) will throw at you some of his very finest works. And there are a lot, so be patient. Before we delve into the obvious latter masterpieces of his career and life, I take you way, way back now to his starting grounds, the blueprints for excellence, with his short films, fiction and documentary. See all 7 of these I plucked from his movie catalog, and seek out others too. You simply must.

Tramway / Tramwaj (1966)

Guy standing amidst dancing people boards a tram on a cold, lonely night. Seeing a girl sitting alone, he is intrigued. Though his watching her may these days constitute creepy, this is not. Sometime watching is through an abstract fear, a delay in courage. Perhaps we wait for it to happen to us – whatever “it” is. A fine five minute homage to passive flirting and missed opportunity. His taps on the window is too little too late. We’ve all been there.

The Office / Urząd (1966)

It appears the the discourse of office customer facing protocol has not changed that much in fifty years, be it Poland, England, United States. Impartial administration against the people perhaps victims of the state. But also an all too familiar bouts of the mundane, the paperwork, the procedures, the questions. And that repetition of “what you have done throughout your lifetime” echoes with such dispersal of themes Kieślowski would visit time and time again. A rapid, intriguing account of such affairs.

Concert of Requests / Koncert życzeń (1967)

Made while Kieślowski was still studying (though he would no doubt tell you we never really stop learning), this 15 minute fiction film has the ambiance of that spontaneous young lifestyle. Those times when we thought we were free and untouchable. Concert of Requests crosses the paths of a bunch of rowdy, joyous people on bus, and a young couple leaving their camping trip on a motorcycle. This social collisions has its compellingly unusual and tense moments.

Refrain / Refren (1972)

Communism and bureaucracy not for the first time rear their political and social heads in Kieślowski narrative. In this documentary short we witness discussions of such matters in a Warsaw funeral parlor, and their relevance even after a person’s passing. It’s notable that as well as the filmmaker’s unfathomable themes, that he would carry magnificently into his illustrious feature film career, Kieślowski loves to have you witness human interaction. His early shorts, perhaps documentary especially, were his continued education into story-telling excellence.

Hospital / Szpital (1976)

The everyday experiences, even the menial of subjects, that we express in conversation are reflective of some of Kieślowski’s eye for dialogue in his later feature films. Hospital is a kind of day-in-the-life-of little film – the kind of medical industry insights now a firm part of today’s reality TV culture. This short also demonstrates the film-makers ability to capture small chunks of humor and candid moments of reality in amongst the serious business of hospital work.

Seven Women of Different Ages / Siedem kobiet w roznym wieku (1978)

The dance of ballet is now the subject of Kieślowski’s seven days depiction of girls and women. Or rather ballet is the platform for the filmmaker’s vision on action and opportunity (years later to be literally attributed to Valentine in Three Colors Red). He is teaching us to dance the rhythm of simplistic, passionate story-telling.

The varying life moments portrayed, branched via females of differing ages of course, devote detail to practice, performance, to watch, and to learn, expressions of satisfaction, gasping for breath, all uniformly show layers of the human spirit. Of course, ballet and all its dedication and balance and hard work, gives the dancer the ambition to strive for perfection – something Kieślowski knows all too well.

RTalking Heads / Gadające glowy (1980)

Asking three basic questions to random people of varying ages, gender. This soon becomes a rather magnetic viewing as with each talking head we visit the birth year in reverse order. Thus collecting the honest answers as the participants get older. Who are you? When were you born? What is important for you? A treasure trove of responses.

The complexity and humanity that derives from such provoking questions is both surprising and comforting. In fact it is pure magic for the most part, as we listen to a baby of one year right through to a woman of one hundred years – her raised eyebrows of inevitability is a real heart-breaker. The passing of time incorporates so many views on the world, aspirations, fears – some so very different, some not so much.

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