Monday, July 6, 2009

DOUBLE LIVES, SECOND CHANCES: THE CINEMA OF KRZYSZTOF KIESLOWSKI by Annette Insdorf

Anyone who comes to Annette Insdorf's book in search of incisive, challenging criticism of Kieslowski's works should look elsewhere. Insdorf knew and loved Kieslowski (she tells us that she called him 'Wujek' [Polish for 'uncle'] and he called her 'Mala' ['little one']), and she comes solely to praise him, an attitude that tends toward the tiresome. Overall, though, her book is valuable and worthy of measured praise rather than dismissive burial. The book is very good on a strictly informational level, providing an excellent overview of Kieslowski's many early documentaries and obscure pre-Decalogue feature films, and it succeeds well in communicating the complete shape of Kieslowski's career. Indeed, it's really more an annotated filmography than a work of criticism. Insdorf is anything but critical. Her commentaries are, however, often illuminating, especially her discussion of the Three Colors trilogy--a discussion that informs and enriches our understanding of the films despite the fact that Insdorf, like the director himself, works overtime to make the trilogy (especially White) seem more humanistic and hopeful (and consistent) than it actually is. One example of the low level of critical intelligence Insdorf brings to bear on these movies: Even though she writes that the events of White take place over a period longer than one year, she's perfectly prepared to play along with Kieslowski's too-neat ending to Red and write that "the trilogy comes full circle within one year." In fact, as careful viewing makes clear, White, Blue and Red are chronologically inconsistent; Karol and Dominique could not possibly have been on a boat crossing the English Channel one year after the death of Julie's husband.

Insdorf also tells us that Kieslowski had a difficult time deciding on the proper endings for some of his films (The Double Life of Veronique and White, in particular), so perhaps the ambiguity of these endings is less a result of artistic mastery than of directorial uncertainty. Hardly a 'killing' criticism, this may just be another way of saying that Kieslowski's films are courageously authentic, true to the director's and screenwriter's visions even when those visions are uncertain or conflicted.

Since my opinion of this book is making me sound like something of a Kieslowski killjoy, I should probably state that I consider the Decalogue, the Three Colors trilogy and The Double Life of Veronique to be among the best films of the past fifty years. I wish Insdorf had written a book equal to them.

1 comment:

saundra said...

"I consider the Decalogue, the Three Colors trilogy and The Double Life of Veronique to be among the best films of the past fifty years."
I quite agree. Just now watched "The Double Life" for the first time and saw "Three Colors" last summer. So he is a new discovery. I have not read any critical work about him but want to do just that. However, all four films, in my book, read like classic Jungian texts, artistic reflections on synchronicity, intuition as the voice of the unconscious, importance of dreams, the double, etc. Archetypal experience is numinous, of mythic proportion, and life changing. Krzysztof's vison is the collective unconscious where everything is possible, and beyond time, or both forward and backward, certainly not linear. That's the beauty of his films and of the "ending of Three Colors. The music and lighting eminate from the realm of mythic dreamscapes.
Love the Dublin library.