Saturday, March 31, 2007

A Short Film About Killing

A Short Film About Killing (1988) is Kieslowski’s feature film, which originally came out of his Decalogue series. The film focuses on particular moral dilemmas attached to both the law, and human nature. Human action and human responsibility are brought to forefront of the film. Kieslowski forces us to pass judgment over the issue. The film’s bleak content frames the film with a particular harshness that imposes the issue of capital punishment on the film. Throughout the film we are forced to apply our own ethics to the characters’ actions.

The film’s aesthetic content reveals a second level to the film. Aspects such as cinematography, color, lighting, editing etc support the film’s distinct mysteriousness. Take for instance the film’s tint, which saturates different forms of light with a greenish coloring. The tint doesn’t necessarily distort any of the features of the film, but rather it sets a particular tone. The film contains this very tainted green, almost polluted looking wash that furthers the film’s gloomy aura. The colors also work simultaneously with Kieslowski’s particular use of lighting. He focuses on shadows and shading in order to frame the film as though it is almost unreal, even nightmarish. Here Kieslowski limits our perception so that we can’t quite make out certain peripheral details. This speaks specifically to the film in that it focuses on individual perception as opposed to cultural (or collective) perception, on such topics as ethics. We are provided with certain details some of which people do not normally witness. Take for example, the five minute long act of killing itself. Other details of the film are muddled and or distorted in symbols.

Kieslowski uses symbols and motifs throughout the film. Take, for instance, the cat that is hanged in the beginning of the film. This opens up the film’s harsh and cold portrayal. The film ends with Jacek, the main character, hung. Should we imply that his hanging is in someway analogous to that of the cat? Why invite these connections? Kieslowski seems to be framing chance images that invite the viewer to create connections between symbols and motifs. Another instance of this indistinct symbolism is the devil-head that swings from the taxi’s rear-view mirror. Many of these symbols however are either lost in their cultural context, or ambiguously representative of multiple connections.

Kieslowski camera work is also very specific and effectively adds to the film’s intensity. Many of his shots are at skewed angles, or tangled behind objects. This gives us a very voyeuristic feel, as if we are peeking in on the characters in the film. Many of the tight and cluttered shots work together with the emptiness of the green filters and limited lighting to add to that mysterious emotion that Kieslowski imposes on the viewer. These tight shots also create a more intimate relationship between the viewer and the film. For instance, Kieslowski, in numerous shots, has Jacek’s face dominate the entire shot. This tight attention to Jacek’s emotion, or lack thereof, links us closer to the issue Kieslowski is trying to display. He seems to be trying to capture the essence of the unsympathetic reality of not only homicide but also of life and death in general. The taxi driver, although he was a rude person, did not in any way deserve to die. And even after Jacek is dead we do not really feel resolved, instead we feel very empty because we come out of the film realizing how bleak the world actually is.

Provincial Actors

Angieszka Holland’s 1979 film Provincial Actors intimately explores the numerous struggles between a cast of actors under the harsh censorship policies in Poland at the time. We see this repression throughout the film as the director unabashedly chops lines out of the play. The main character of the film, and lead role in the play, Chris, however frequently counters the director’s censorship. His role embodies that late 70s sentiment of laboring resistance against the political disparity. This is also what ultimately led to the Solidarity movement, which formed in 1980. The movement was hinged on national pride, non-violence, and advocating social change.

Chris uses his popularity and position in the play to question the director’s exhibition of power and censorship. He tries to convince the rest of the cast about the issue however they are unresponsive to it. Even his wife ignores his complaints. This is either because she knows that nothing will change because they are just provincial actors, or because she is oblivious to his concerns. I can’t imagine that his wife is completely numb to the political atrocities. It seems, perhaps, that she feels so oppressed by the system that their reaction against it will only afford them trouble. In the end Chris continues to battle censorship issues in the theatre. We know this because the director confronts Chris about reciting lines that were edited out. The director in response belittles Chris saying that his resistance is worthless because no one even notices the significance of the lines he’s reciting. This could imply that the majority is deceived by governmental hegemony.

Another important aspect of the film includes the relationship between Chris and his wife, Anna. This explores more intimately how communist oppression effected the population on an individual level. The play ultimately forces the couple apart. This is because Chris is so preoccupied with the political conditions and pressures for him to conform to the censorial oppression. Anna’s only response to his reaction against the play is when she suggests that he should leave the play. She’s not quite keen on the system he is trying to undermine. This might suggest her reluctance to become resistant herself; this is because she is as oppressed as everyone else in the film. However, despite her reluctance, she does have a strong social role in the film. She independently resists Chris whenever he shows dominance over her. For instance, we he orders her to make sandwiches she directly confronts him about it. In another scene, Chris, in an exhibition of power, slaps her on the face. Here, he loses control of his emotions. All of the pressure that he feels he is bearing to conform forces him to buckle and he inflicts his pain onto his wife.

The elder neighbor is a brief but important character. He seems to be an active embodiment of such themes as aging and temporality, as well as social and generational differences. His suicide is displayed in a very bleak and abrupt manner. We only get a quick glimpse of his plummeting body through the apartment window. His death ultimately remarks on the human condition in relation to the social and political system. Holland explores the desolate, despairing and wreak mystery that is our existence.

My Twentieth Century

Ildiko Enyedi’s 1989 film, My Twentieth Century, is an extremely complex movie whose narrative functions to explore the embodiment of modernity at the turn of the century. The film simply peruses and catalogues the visual and social changes in history. The film does not really adhere to a formal plot structure. Instead, we are enigmatically tossed around a time-scape that lends itself to the life of Dora and Lili. The film explores various themes that replicate and journey through turn of the century events and sentiment.

Enyedi, through a mixture of episodic events, melds together different factions of the past in order to synthesize a complete picture of the changes at hand. These juxtapositions allow us to learn more about the main characters, who seem to stand for social issues, history and technology. Take for instance the great exhibition of lights that are displayed at the film’s opening sequence. This particular image (this sequence) provides us with particular ideas which we are forced to juxtapose with every scene that follows. A technological advancement, such as the light bulb, represents for instance, progress.

In the beginning of the film we witness the birth of both Dora and Lili. The scenes following then explore the separation between the twins. The young girls grow up in two different environments. This dichotomy explores the different social and economical condition in which they find themselves representative. Dora grows up to become materialistic. For instance on the train she’s wearing a very elegant black dress, drinking wine, etc. Lili, on the other hand, finds solace in life that is committed to political activism.

Accordingly, Enyedi provides us with the presence of notions purported Weininger, which the film explicitly presents claiming women as either whores or virgins. I think what Enyedi is trying to explore is this fork in the road where women decided what factors will dominate their perception. Dora finds her autonomy represented in the material goods that she consumes, and despite the fact that men try to appeal to her with their power, which is defined in status (wealth, etc), she pay them little heed, and seems more amused by the exchange of goods for pleasure. To Lili this exchange is foreign; instead, she is more interested in a greater good, a purpose that is representative of something beyond her own amusement or pleasure. In the end, the film seems to embody a whole slew of ideas and aspects related to (temporal) progress including social, political, economic, technological and sexual issues.