A Short Film About Love (1988)

a short film about love 1Why do you watch me? -Magda

Because I love you – Tomek

Early on it becomes evident that Tomek is a very lonely young man. He lives in Warsaw in a room belonging to the elderly mother of his best friend, who is off deployed by the U.N. There is also some brief suggestion that Tomek’s parents left him when he was very young. Look at him now and this taciturn lad of 19 is all alone. He has no true friends.

Every evening his routine involves waiting for his alarm clock to go off at precisely 8:30. He pulls out his telescope from under its covering and readies himself for another evening of people watching.  Except he is interested in one person, in particular, his strikingly beautiful neighbor across the way. So, yes, he’s a peeping tom and his voyeurism is a bit reminiscent of Rear Window without the pretenses of a murder mystery.

a short film about love 2And despite the clandestine nature of his activities he still somehow remains innocent in the eyes of the beholder. Daily he works at the post office behind the glass and in the evening he studies languages. But he’s continually drawn to this lady across the way. He feels like he knows her. He wants any pretense to meet her and so he creates a bit of fate anytime he can.

It means sending her fake money orders just so she enters the post office and he can interact with her. It means calling her home at night and hearing her voice over the telephone or taking on a job as an early morning milkman just so he can get another chance encounter with her. It even strays into the territory of purloining her mail and calling the gas company just to disrupt her life a little bit.

All these facets easily push Tomek over the line and his bit of obsession could easily be seen as creepy, in fact, it is creepy. However, when he runs after a distraught Magdelena leaving the post office and discloses his activities, everything changes.

He is ashamed. She is repulsed by his admissions. And that looks to be the end of it. But she ultimately realizes the innocence in his eyes, the sincerity in his voice. He says in the most genuine way possible that he loves her.

Intrigued she pries more. What is it he wants? To kiss her, to make love, to run away together? His answer? Tomek wants nothing, nothing. This surprisingly tender conversation leads to several more encounters. First, she willingly masquerades in front of his telescope and then they meet for ice cream in a cafe.

a short film about love 3However, often times sex and love become synonymous terms and that is the underlying tension between Tomek and Maria Magdelena’s relationship. Though innocent, he wants true love, a love that transcends a simple physical act and is summed up with affection, intimacy, and an inherent closeness. He is taken with her beauty certainly but even more so he is invariably alone. Meanwhile, she is so enraptured with sex and denigrating such a grand (and admittedly messy) thing as love, to a simple physical act. She can’t understand this wide-eyed boy and his delusions. She’s ready to open him up to the way the world actually turns. And her callousness ultimately crushes Tomek’s tender heart. She broke it not by simply rejecting him, because this is a ludicrous love story, but truly obliterating any of the naive aspirations he had for love.

The final act is executed with pristine restraint because Kieslowski does not sink into melodrama but the twinges of emotion begin to overcome Magda as she comes to realize how much she devastated her young admirer. Now she looks out her window every night for any sign of his return. She tries calling him up to acknowledge her mistakes and even goes to see his Godmother.

In the final contemplative moments, Magda is finally given a view into Tomek’s perspective — seeing exactly as he had seen — envisioning the scene from across the way.  As is his nature, Kieslowski’s film is insightful and thought-provoking, a fuller examination of his work in the Decalogue. It’s a rather perturbing parable in some respects, but that is only due to the perversity and desires that dwell within the human heart. It’s a telling Biblical allusion that the main female heroine is named after Mary Magdelena, a woman who was historically known for her dubious reputation and promiscuous ways. But it was the exact same woman who went to a redemptive transformation in the Biblical narrative.

Kieslowski leaves his film essentially open-ended but the character’s name is a powerful one because it somehow suggests even to the tiniest degree that these characters too can be redeemed. There is still hope. It’s certainly a tall order to make a short film about love that still manages to leave its mark and yet Kieslowski does it with immense grace. He employs brevity while still succeeding in delivering a thoughtful study on one of the world’s most perplexing mysteries: Love.

4/5 Stars

Three Colors: White (1994)

threecolorswhite1The Three Colors Trilogy is made up of the three colors of the French flag. Thus, the second installment, between Blue and Red is of course White. It is considered by some to be the weakest of the three films, but that is rather unfair because it is still wonderful in its own right.

The other films are pensive, thoughtful pieces of drama, but White is actually quite funny in a dismal sort of way. You see, Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) is a Polish hairdresser, who is going through divorce proceedings because his beautiful French wife says she doesn’t love him anymore. He has to sit through the court hearing being delivered in a foreign tongue, and he has to go through public embarrassment in front of everyone. It’s a humiliating situation and the worst of it is that he still loves Dominique (Julie Delpy). He loses all his money, his credit is invalidated, and she takes about everything else. At least Karol has his giant suitcase, but that’s about it.

threecolorswhite2That’s where a fellow named Pole Mikolaj finds him slumped up against a wall in the subway station. He’s pitiful, but they strike up a conversation in their native language, and he agrees to help Karol stowaway to get back to Poland. There’s nothing left for him in France after all, so he hides in his suitcase and his new friend takes it through customs. It’s utterly ridiculous, but they play it straight. Then picture this. You’re stowing away inside a suitcase and then some thieves steal it to get the payoff inside. Imagine their surprise when they find not valuables, but a human being. And the jokes on them because that human has absolutely nothing to steal. All that’s left to do is give him a firm kick in the rear and leave him for dead. If it wasn’t so depressing, this would be absolutely hilarious, and it still is pretty funny.

Next Karol tries to make some quick money, because hairdressing may be in demand, but it’s not a great moneymaking proposition. He ends up being hired as a bodyguard, and he’s a very awkward sort to be packing a firearm. His next scheme is to double-cross his boss by buying up plots of land before his bosses can. They looked to sell if for profit to big corporations, but Karol beats them and they cannot touch him. They’ve no way to get the money from him, and all of the sudden, it seems like he’s doing very well.

threecolorswhite3The time has come for one last vengeful trick and the joke’s on Dominque this time. He still loves her, but Karol enlists the help of Mikolaj and a few others, to help him get back at his wife. It works better than he was expecting, in fact, maybe too well. Dominque still has feelings for him, but now he may never be able to see her again.

Krzysztof Kieslowski’s films usually have a sensuous and mysterious woman in the lead, whether it’s Irene Jacob or Juliette Binoche. Julie Delpy is a similar type of beauty, and yet she is less the focal point compared to Karol Karol. In a sense, you give up some of that enigmatic aura of the aloof goddess, but Karol is an extremely funny character, even visually. Thus, White is not quite like Blue or Red, but they are interconnected and it’s still thoroughly worthwhile. Different is often a strength, not a weakness, and in this case, it is a good thing.

4/5 Stars

The Double Life of Veronique (1991)

thedoublelife4Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique fills an ethereal world full of dancing light, soft hues, and faint reflections. It’s beautifully muted visuals complement a wonderfully mysterious story. Its title suggests the potential of a story about one woman living two varying lifestyles, one respectable, the other not. Instead, the film revolves around two women living parallel lives. Neither is shameful or noticeably corrupt. They are both sweet individuals with aspirations that drive their lives. They desire love and commendation like many of us.

The first is named Weronika, a Polish beauty, who is an up and coming operatic performer. While her star is on the rise, she meets a new boyfriend and goes a trip to visit her aunt. But everything goes back to the music. In fact, music often takes center stage totally enrapturing us in song. There are sublimely haunting melodies that pierce right through our core. The angelic voices are gracefully wafting through the chambers of cathedrals and music halls. And just like that the breathe is gone out of one of the angels for good. We get a hint at it from Weronika’s aunt, suggesting that all their family members died unexpectedly, but there’s no more explanation.

thedoublelife5The majority of the narrative follows French music teacher Veronique, who is the spitting image of her Polish counterpart. Except they have no relationship whatsoever, only some odd intuition that there is someone else out there who they do not fully know. As we observe the daily rhythms of this young woman’s life, it feels almost otherworldly with an unearthly golden glow that illuminates the streets she walks. It’s a film where marionettes are made graceful and bouncy balls are little orbs of wonder. Along the way, Veronique finds a love of her own that she doesn’t even know. But she’s enchanted by him and the magic that surrounds him, much as we are bewitched by her. Her lover is constructing two identical marionettes in order to tell a new story about two women with a connection that cannot be described. In other words, the mythos around his narratives, tread closely to Veronique’s own life. A girl in one of her photos makes it clear. Everything comes to a fitting full circle, and yet we get little in the realm of a fully gratifying ending.

thedoublelife2More often than not Kieslowski’s film has a mesmerizing effect on me and a  great deal of that power of entrancement is due to Irene Jacob. She is like a cinematic goddess with a face made to be scrutinized. A charming classical beauty, she exudes a range of emotions, while still managing to hold onto a semblance of mystique. Jacob is a wonderful muse for the director’s purposes and she would prove so again in Three Colors: Red. But that’s another conversation entirely.

I consciously ask myself, “Is this a film even to be understood?” Because the plot points and the pieces don’t always seem to fit together especially well when you actually consider them. And somehow I remain content in that reality. Whereas someone like Michelangelo Antonioni throws away a few pieces of the puzzle for good measure, for Kieslowski these final pieces never existed. They are not paramount to what he is trying to accomplish. The Double Life of Veronique maintains such a transcendental almost spiritual quality because we can only watch and listen. Ours is not to reason why ours is to simply look on in awe at what we are witnessing. The beauty, the enigma, and the feelings. Because Kieslowski is more interested in the essence of the film than the particulars.

4.5/5 Stars

Three Colors: Red (1994)

 3a286-threecolorsred3Kieslowski’s films are mostly character driven and yet he often uses high drama to create a far more complex lens to observe his subjects. In Blue, the inciting incident was a deadly car accident. It seems only fitting that he would end this story with the catastrophic sinking of a ferry. He takes the same bleak, no-nonsense approach with little fanfare that he used before. It’s his way.

In fact Three Colors: Red as a whole is another simplistic film in plot, and yet the irony is that the film is chock full of complexity because its major point of interest is interpersonal relationships (as suggested by the intertwining phone lines shown early on). There is nothing more tangled and intricate about humanity than our relationships.

As such, this final installment is in many ways a story about love, romance, and friendship, and yet Kieslowski does not find it necessary to preach to us. He is better and more thoughtful than that, laying out the story for us to ponder and mull over. This is the story or better yet the parable he created.

Valentine (Irene Jacob) is a young student and model who is constantly an innocent and sympathetic figure with a pair of doe eyes. She is often shown in profile which continually reveals her youthful and even sullen beauty. She is even the somber poster girl of a gum campaign plastered around town. There’s a boyfriend in her life who she desires the affection of, and then there’s a brother who is hooked on drugs. In other words, life is far from rosy and secure.

One day she accidentally runs over a dog that she takes to the owner (Jean-Louis Trintignant,) who seems surprisingly unconcerned by the event. She does the only thing she can do with a clear conscious which is taking the dog to the vet and then taking care of it herself. Soon after, Valentine finds herself walking the dog by the old man’s house once more and she discovers what he does all day. It turns out he is a retired judge, and he spends his solitary existence eavesdropping on the conversations of others (including Valentine’s neighbor Auguste).

Later, through the grapevine, she finds out that a retired judge had a suit filed against him, and she rushes to his house to assure him she had no part. He already knows because he was the one who turned himself in.

Over the next days, Valentine begins to empathize more and more with Mr. Kern’s existence. As a former judge, he was forced to make decisions far more difficult than most. In fact, why do people follow laws? Is it out of goodness or purely self-serving? Is morality all relative? What really is good and bad, because how would we act in the other man’s shoes? By this point, we see Kern’s struggle a little better.

Finally, Valentine invites her new found friend to her last fashion show before she heads to England for a few weeks. It’s a touching moment when he pays her a visit after the show, but it also reveals the pain in the old man’s past. It may be a lucky guess but all we know is that Valentine figures him out. It just shows that you cannot judge others by first impressions.

So as it goes, Auguste’s life practically mirrors that of a younger Kern, and thus, so many parallels become evident. Aside from the obvious, I only figured it out after the film was done, but they are both judges, struggle in love and the like. At the end of the film when Kern sees the news about the ferry with Valentine and Auguste aboard, the only thing we know for sure is that there were seven survivors (guess who!). In a somewhat subtle way, the trilogy is connected and Kieslowski ends his tale on a fitting note. It freezes and just like that the career of one man was done for good. A couple years later he would already be gone. But he went out on top and Three Colors cemented his legacy. I always loved the color red the best. Here’s yet another reason why.

4.5/5 Stars

Three Colors: Blue (1993)

b0ad4-threecolorsblue“Now I only have one thing left to do: Nothing. I don’t want any belongings, any memories. No friends, no love. Those are all traps.”

I once thought that Before Sunrise was the type of movie that I would want to make. Three Colors: Blue is another concept that I have often envisioned without even knowing it. In fact, I had seen The Descendants, a film with a somewhat similar story arc told from a different perspective. Except whereas Clooney’s film is full of blatant drama and intense familial moments in Hawaii, Blue is far more nuanced.

The Descendants might be a more gripping drama, but Blue has the sort of complex depiction that seems to more closely mirror reality. The grieving process involves isolation, solemness, and at times few words. The easiest way to grieve is not to feel, not to fully embrace the pain. Sometimes that is the simplest if not the healthiest way to deal with it for Julie. It’s a real world approach to the scenario, and it’s no less painful to watch — perhaps even more so.

Julie’s husband Patrice de Courcy was a famous composer who was commissioned to arrange a grand piece to be performed at concerts for the Unification of Europe. It is a great honor and we quickly learn that Patrice is quite a big deal. However, after a car accident, Patrice and his 5-year-old daughter perish in the crash and only Julie gets away alive. It is a stark, unsentimental picture, and it succeeds in changing Julie’s life forever.

After being released from the hospital she soon sells all her possessions and moves out of her family apartment to take up residence somewhere far removed from any acquaintances, including a man named Olivier who is in love with her. She has a new home and begins to sever ties to her old life. The unfinished work of her husband (and her) is trashed and that’s the end of that. In her new Parisian home, she has a rodent problem and becomes the hesitant confidant of a local exotic dancer. Furthermore, she rejects the necklace that a young man pulled out of the wreckage. Her times of solitude are spent swimming laps alone in the local pool, submerged and half-covered in shadow. Grandiose symphonies reverberate through her mind haunting her. In such moments, Kieslowski will often black out the screen in the middle of the scene, effectively interrupting the action for a few seconds before bringing us back.

Words are few and far between for Julie and when she does speak it is often brief and reserved. We are, therefore, forced to observe her without the aid of dialogue. She is certainly detached but there is a provocative side to her. Something is mystifying about her soft features, dark eyes, and short hair. She is a wonderful woman of mystery and beauty because the reality of it is, we do not know a whole lot about her. We must discover more bit by bit and she does not readily disclose information.

It is when pictures of her life literally flash before her eyes on a TV screen that the story takes its next turn. Julie learns soon enough that her husband had a mistress that he was with for a few years. In the hands of Hollywood, this would be high drama. In the hands of Kieslowski, it is far from it. Julie is still the same aloof individual she always was and even a confrontation with the mistress does not change that. She is civil and generous through it all.

Finally, she returns to her husband’s composition which she learns Olivier has started to rewrite. They agree that he will make his own work and Julie must accept it for what it is. Faces from the film float across the screen and a still solemn Julie lets out a few silent tears. The anti-tragedy is complete, a subdued, intriguing piece of cinema. Not for those with short attention spans but, I am interested to see Red and White. Kieslowski intrigues me with his thought provoking films somehow reminiscent of the likes of Bergman or Bunuel.

4.5/5 Stars