Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema which runs from February 5th to 16th. For more information on this film series visit filmlinc.com and follow The Film Society of Lincoln Center on Twitter @FilmLinc
If we’re to take Camera Buff as Krzysztof Kieslowski’s masterpiece, in the traditional sense—and we should; its earnest self-interrogation renders it as much of an artistic raison d’être as Andrei Rublev—then the opening movement of Blind Chance is the extraordinary effort of a master at work. His first theatrical feature shot in the wake of that film, albeit one delayed some six years due to censorship, this tremendous tripartite tale—tracing the life of the young student Witek across three alternate timelines in succession—uses an aesthetic and editorial approach in its founding moments to artfully establish a bedrock of political and public chaos to make maddeningly necessary the alternate existences he proceeds to explore. It’s not only for its most famous direct descendant that it might well be named Run Poland Run.
Kieslowski captures the malaise of a man, and through him a nation, unwittingly caught in the clutches of communism and the society it breeds.
Here at the crossroads of his roots in documentary realism and his eventual endpoint on a more poetic plane, Kieslowski captures the malaise of a man, and through him a nation, unwittingly caught in the clutches of communism and the society it breeds. How apt that the sole scene “lost beyond retrieve” in this restored version of the film is one of police brutality; as much as the movie might attest its time in its content, its release—indeed lack thereof—says it all the better. Like the opening shot, in which the camera delves into a screaming mouth, Blind Chance takes an approach to its subject that’s at once direct and oblique, simultaneously serious and satirical.
There’s a perverse playfulness to the perspective repeatedly established and subverted in the movie’s opening section, before the first of its three strands takes off. Having his cast stare directly into the lens, Kieslowski pulls back time and again to reveal the object of their gaze as just off-screen; conflating and condensing the first and third persons, the film consistently collapses any notion of distance between us and that we perceive, a ploy aided by an editorial rhythm that commands our attention. So it is with history—so much of which is present—and our efforts to exist outside it; the three potential fates which befall our protagonist across the course of the film, if anything, point to the problems of daring to disengage.
What Kieslowski has done here is to capture the blind terror of a time, the lingering ill-ease of political and personal indecision in a manner both specific and somehow universally applicable too.
That shouldn’t be taken as indicative of any expertise on the director’s part; the great joy of Blind Chance is its open admissions that there are no easy answers to the political and personal quandaries it raises. “It’s not just pure chance,” someone says with certainty at one stage. “I wouldn’t be so sure,” comes the reply. Nor would the film, and the dialectical progression of its plot—as though Kieslowski’s story is a video game level he has opted to restart—equally bears the marks of beautifully structured drama and the desperate human search for resolution. It’s telling that Witek spends time both with “the Party” and without it; no less so that the first line of dialogue in each iteration of his life is “are you blind?”: are we ever not?
“We’ve been talking for so long,” Witek remarks to the love interest of his second timeline. “There must be nothing left to say.” So it is with the film, which doesn’t so much climax as it does simply conclude no great deal better off than when it started. And who could blame it? What Kieslowski has done here is to capture the blind terror of a time, the lingering ill-ease of political and personal indecision in a manner both specific and somehow universally applicable too. That its release was held back, perhaps, offers one of the most apt indications of its worth to us. “Each generation wants some kind of light,” a professor opines at one point. Kieslowski, if nothing else, has left us this essential illumination of a generation past. He did not know what to do with it. Maybe, with a record this replete, we will.
[notification type=”star”]88/100 ~ GREAT. Kieslowski, if nothing else, has left us this essential illumination of a generation past. He did not know what to do with it. Maybe, with a record this replete, we will.[/notification]