It was the summer of 1994. Kieslowski's 'Red' had had its premiere at Cannes. Its predecessors - 'Blue' and 'White' had premiered at Venice and Berlin less than ten months ago. Having won the Best Film and the Best Director for them respectively, and having nominated for Palm d'or at Cannes for his last film in the trilogy, Kieslowski was finally being hailed by the world. Many thought it was just the beginning. He thought otherwise. Soon after the premiere of 'Red', this Polish auteur announced his retirement from film making. He believed he had said all he had to. He was only 54.
In his final film, there is a character of an old judge, having opted for premature voluntary retirement. "I want nothing", he remarks, in one of the scenes. "Then stop breathing" - comes the reaction from the young female protagonist. Less than two years after Kieslowski announced his 'retirement', he died.
The discovery of Krzysztof Kieslowski as world cinema's big secret and one of the masters of the craft happened only after his retirement. Having worked all his life within the censorship and demoralizing political environment of USSR-influenced Poland, Kieslowski's early works were strongly political, and failed to reach to significant number of Western or Asian audience. Didn't this bother him when he was making some of the best films in contemporary European cinema? Did he really believe he was "so-so", as he says in the biographical documentary made on him? Didn't he enjoy the new-found adoration and acclaim that the world started to bestow upon him after the wave of liberation in eastern Europe in the early 90s? He was a film-maker who kept bettering himself all his life, saving the best for the end. His 'Decalog', and 'The Double Life of Veronique', along with the 'Three Colors Trilogy' are his best work. He was no Welles, or Godard, or Ray - to have impressed the world with his first film. Instead he remained a seeker all his life, constantly trying to master his storytelling and aesthetic skills. How could he be satisfied making his final films primarily in a language he hardly understood (French) and on the national ideals of a country not his own (the three colors of the French flag)? Didn't he know that he had achieved a status where he could have made any film he wanted, and even attract some American funding and distribution in future? How could he, after struggling all his life to make the films he wanted to make, decide to give up when he had finally started to get all he deserved? Or more importantly, what was it in his final films that made him believe that he had accomplished all he wanted to? Today his works are savored by hard-core film-buffs all around the world. The vast majority of the film-watching population was, and remains, oblivious to the giant of an artist he was. And all those who watch his films are left wanting for more. Why did he have to go away so soon? Why did he decide to stop creating magic, when he could have gone ahead and conquered the world?
As I revisited the 'Three Colors Trilogy' over the past week, I was haunted by the same questions. A friend answered them for me. She has just discovered Kieslowski and has only watched the Trilogy. When I told her that Kieslowski's cinema constantly has a touch of pessimism, and a dark world-view, she made me realize that his final film was not so. 'Red' has so much of optimism and tenderness that it inspires you, unlike other films by him. Despite dealing with death and separation, 'Red' is a film about the power of goodness. I also find the themes of reincarnation and redemption all over it. But most importantly, it is a film about brotherhood, togetherness, about the bonds we share, about the great karmic connection that links all our souls. In Kieslowski's own words: "...If there is anything worthwhile doing for the sake of culture, then it is touching on subject matters and situations which link people, and not those that divide people... It doesn't matter who you are or who I am, if your tooth aches or mine, it's still the same pain... We all fear the same way and the same things. And we all love in the same way. That's why I tell about these things, because in all other things I immediately find division."
Today I proudly recommend my favorite film-maker's most popular works - the 'Three Colors Trilogy' as must-watch-before-you-die films. The first in the series - 'Blue' is my favorite film of all time. More about it later....