With a mix of rigorous philosophical inquiry and operatic emotion, Krzysztof Kieślowski translated the mysteries of everyday life into incandescent, richly cinematic reveries. Before his untimely death in 1996, at the age of fifty-four, the Polish master traveled an idiosyncratic path from the politically engaged documentaries and social realist dramas of his early career to the ambitious metaphysical explorations of Dekalog and the Three Colors trilogy, which made him one of the most internationally renowned European filmmakers of his generation. On what would have been his seventy-sixth birthday, we’re honoring him with a look back at his most celebrated achievements.
- In his essay on the director’s 1981 meditation on fate Blind Chance, Dennis Lim calls the film “the bluntest articulation of the Kieślowskian view of life: one in which human existence takes shape as a confluence of contingency, choice, and forces beyond our control and understanding.”
- “In Kieślowski’s dialectic of consciousness and matter, Poles’ subjection to an increasingly oppressive, dysfunctional materiality ironically generated an immaterial place at which they met: the discourse of humble dreams,” writes Paul Coates in his liner notes for 1988’s Dekalog, a monumental film cycle that chronicles the intersecting lives of residents in a housing complex in late-Communist Poland.
- The stirring music of Zbigniew Preisner underscores the spiritual and emotional dimensions of many of the director’s major films. Listen to highlights from the composer’s work in the below playlist:
- Kieślowski’s sensuous 1991 masterpiece The Double Life of Véronique “has the capacity to mesmerize,” writes Jonathan Romney. “It invites analysis, yet it also encourages us, in its creation of a nebulous, numinous world, to bypass critical inquiry and to respond on a sensual, emotional, or even—if we are so inclined—spiritual level.”
- Writing on the director’s collaborations with actor Irène Jacob, Peter Cowie notes that “Kieślowski found an actress who could communicate her thoughts through tiny bits of business—the pensive twisting of a shoelace, a private laugh as she reads a fairy tale, the extra blink of an eye as she tells her father of a dream or listens to a tape.”
- Criterion producer Abbey Lustgarten dives into ten interesting facts she uncovered while working on our edition of Kieślowski’s crowning achievement, the Three Colors trilogy, which was shot in less than ten months.
- Nick James writes that the first film in the trilogy, Blue, showcases Kieślowski not only as “the master of the telling detail” but also as “one of the great originators of what has become the international style of so many films shown at festivals, films that favor low-key acting, an oblique approach to subject matter and scenes, the off-kilter photographic image, and patience with passing time.”
- Kieślowski infused the trilogy with dark comedy in its second installment, White, in which—as Stuart Klawans explains—“people scheme and cheat and make banknotes multiply like a stage magician’s pigeons, and yet there’s nothing much said about how Poland got to be like this.”
- The director’s 1994 swan song, Red, showcases him at the height of his powers as a stylist. In an episode of the Criterion Channel series Observations on Film Art, professor Jeff Smith details how this final masterwork subtly employs camera movement to suggest the interconnectedness of its characters.