First I want to say thanks for continuing this talk which obviously accomplishes nothing new for you, but helps me better define my opinion.
I figure what you have said is his goal, but the film, in the short at least as I haven't seen the feature, gives the audience a lot to grab onto in that scene so as to make his death horrible. Perhaps I should have been more clear in saying that the handsome killer with a backstory comes into play in the film's second half, but I figured that would have been assumed. Making the cabbie unlikable is the only thing off putting about the initial act rather than allowing it to speak to its own brutality.
I'd have thought a rather bigger thing that's "off putting" about the initial act is the fact that it's a grotesquely prolonged act of cold-blooded murder! So much so - and I think this is very much Kieślowski's argument - that it quickly becomes irrelevant what sort of person is on the receiving end: we may initially feel a vicarious thrill that he's receiving his "comeuppance" (as though being murdered was in any way an appropriate response for a few unpleasant gestures), but as the murder goes on and on and on we're much more conscious of living in the here and now, of actually watching a flesh and blood human being having the life slowly and agonisingly snuffed out of him. Same with the killer's backstory later on: it's inadmissible as evidence, and has no impact on the implacability of the judicial execution, except as a suggestion that mid-1980s Warsaw is such a grim and oppressive place that it's hardly surprising that it turns people into psychopaths.
Fair enough on the term off-putting, though I meant that it was off putting to that goal of creating horror at the killer. Running a bit with the nihillistic quality Johnshade mentions, I took that characterization to be a punker gone wrong, like the nastier flipside to the second hero of episode ten. That with some of his interactions with the locals builds him as a dangerous, though in some ways likable figure. Mentally I keep returning to Lorre in M
who likewise gets a lot of sympathy even before his big speech, but never through the sort of cute little punkish interactions on display here like the window or the aloof manner of ordering the creampuff. It forces a necessary contrast to the cabbie who never gets these human little moments leading him to seem like an example of unlikable bad against the killer's likable bad. This seems further cemented in each one's death scene as the killer collapses and cries showing himself as human, while the cabbie (though I admit this is totally logical and thus not a real complaint; just an example of characterization) commits to an animalistic survival mode. He doesn't really become the human in the now you mentioned so much a character trying to escape the sentence passed from his very first frame. Returning to your actual point, yeah the length of the killing makes it really gross and disturbing in a way more successful than Hitchcock's similar attempt in Torn Curtain
, but for me it never achieved this place you suggest of circumventing characterization into pure humanistic pity. Whether that's a failure of the film or me I'm not sure about and I suspect that watching the long version will clarify matters significantly.
This might be a good time to also refer to your HBO response, but to be clear I didn't mean modern HBO, but their productions contemporary to this film. If that's still not fair though how about comparing to Alan Clarke who certainly worked on small budgets and not even this series' 35mm and yet managed a much better aesthetic than the episodes I was referring to here, which obviously doesn't include episode five.
"A much better aesthetic" is subjective and therefore meaningless. Alan Clarke is a wholly different type of director from Krzysztof Kieślowski, and I can no more imagine him directing Blind Chance[/i), [i]The Double Life of Véronique
or the early documentaries than I can imagine Kieślowski making Scum
or The Firm
. I suspect you're drawing these largely meaningless comparisons because you watched the Clarke and Kieślowski boxes in fairly quick succession.
Yes, likewise I nearly mentioned Kiarostami due to quick succession, but ultimately decided it better not to Godard myself on this one. All the same I wasn't trying to compare directorial worth as your bringing up theatrical films suggests, but that working low budget in the confines of European television is not an excuse for inarticulate filmmaking. I could have just as easily mentioned After the Rehearsal
and it would have made my point equally. That Clarke was so talented in using the limitations as a plus without the benefit of having previous theatrical releases only further cements my point I think.
That aside done Clarke's own film against judicial killing, To Encourage the Others seems to have integrated its sympathies better than five. It still does a lot in the back half to make the one to be hanged sympathetic, but doesn't work up moralistic excuses for the killing.
I have read a great deal of critical appraisal of Dekalog Five
and A Short Film About Killing
over the last three decades, and you are honestly the only person that I've come across who thinks that making the taxi driver unpleasant constitutes "working up moralistic excuses for the killing". Kieślowski is doing no such thing - indeed, I suspect he'd be horrified that someone interpreted his film along those lines.
Instead, I'd argue that although To Encourage the Others
is a very fine piece of dramatic narrative, it ultimately exploits the same clichés as most other anti-capital punishment polemics (admittedly Clarke was hamstrung by the fact that this was a true story), whereby the executed murderer was only peripherally involved with the capital crime, and whose innocence might have come through more clearly within a less vengeful system. Kieślowski is doing the exact opposite: his killer is as guilty as hell (and how!), and therefore in the eyes of the Polish judicial system at the time, he "deserves to die" - at which point Kieślowski grabs the audience by the collective scruff of its neck and says "Look, this is what 'capital punishment' actually means. Aside from being more polished and professional, what's the essential difference between it and what you witnessed earlier?". And I'd argue that it's by avoiding the usual manipulation that the film achieves its cumulative power: because it doesn't fall back on the usual clichés - indeed, because it seems to be consciously undermining them at every turn - the viewer can't ever relax.
Fair enough, though I think that only proves my counterexample as a bad one rather than refuting that Kieslowski accidentally comes across as moralistic.
I feel like I've expanded on the substance a little hopefully negating that feeling somewhat. I thought my comment on aesthetic was a small portion of my whole post, but in case not I'm open to more talk. This is the earliest I've gone with Kieslowski aside from a few shorts so I do hope your substance comment proves as true for me as it does you. As it stands so far I only like the episodes I cited, episode ten, and Red.
to me was one of his most disappointing films, where he fully embraced what to me has always been a rather empty European "art-movie" feel to no particularly distinctive effect. I wasn't overly keen on Blue
either (and I entered the cinema seriously expecting one of the most mindblowing cinematic experiences of my life) - in fact, of the last trilogy, I only really liked White
, which has become more resonant over time thanks to its incisive portrait of the dog-eat-dog atmosphere of immediately post-Communist Poland, most likely because it has much more in common with Kieślowski's earlier work. Going from interviews, I think he knew how much he'd lost by leaving Poland, although he had the noblest methods for doing so: after Communism, film funding virtually collapsed and he was one of the few Polish filmmakers who could plausibly get international support - but in so doing, he had to jettison what made his earlier Polish films so distinctive.
I will say that after watching Ten which I feel shares a lot of DNA at least with my memory of White
I'm keen to revisit it to see if my opinion goes higher. At the time it was the only one of the trilogy I was indifferent to.
I think my main problem with six is that it on one hand excuses some really awful behavior by the boy romanticizing his attempt while on the other the woman never seems to be engaged with as real. That makes sense when we see everything through his eyes, but when she takes the lead her superficial presentation does not change as well. It is almost like his dream of her finally realizing he is so super. It is just a toxic idea of love to me.
Amusingly, you've absolutely nailed what the film is about while at the same time thinking that it's some kind of defect. In fact, Toxic Ideas About Love
would be an entirely plausible (if commercially off-putting) title - the whole point of the film is that both
the central characters, regardless of their age and experience, have deeply warped impressions of what constitutes "love", and at the very end he's arguably the more grown-up of the two. At the time, I much preferred the very different ending of the longer version, but Kieślowski always preferred the shorter one, and in retrospect I can see why: its abruptness is a very effective dramatic equivalent of the moment that virtually all of us has experienced when we suddenly find out, quickly and usually harshly, that our fantasy about a particular relationship doesn't remotely chime with the other person's, and most likely never will.
But I totally disagree that we never interpret Magda as "real" - on the contrary, I think both Kieślowski and Grażyna Szapołowska do an amazing job of creating a complex, nuanced character despite the challenge that she's mostly viewed inaudibly from a distance in the film's early stages.
Well, I suppose I have to wait until I can compare with the long version to give a good response and hopefully it is an agreeable one.