Self-conscious aesthete, existential structuralist, one of the world's most eloquent conjoiners of metaphysical mystery and sociopolitical critique, and a still-missed fallen soldier in the shrinking ranks of Euro art film, Krzysztof Kieslowski was only a well-known global figure for about six years before he died -- beginning in 1989 with the film-fest siege of The Decalogue and ending with the climax of his overrated Three Colors trilogy, Red (1994). But he was a busy cineaste from the mid-'60s on, and eventually, an integral inheritor of not only Antonioni-Tarkovsky monumentalism, but the mantle of being Poland's cinematic conscience in the autumn years of Andrzej Wajda. A Road Map of the Soul: The Complete Kieslowski brings the famed artist's works back to life with a month-long tribute that starts this week with seven of his short films, including The Office/Urzad.
The Decalogue may well end up being Kieslowski's single enduring work, for its conceptual bravado as much as for its cumulative torque and weighty ethical interrogations. But while fans of the rather magical Double Life of Veronique (1991) and Three Colors might be curious about Kieslowski's apprentice-years short films (all of which are crystalline and powerful, from 1966's The Office to 1980's Railway Station), they should seek out his grittier, Soviet-bloc-era one-off features as well, which generally ask meatier, more immediate questions. (The Calm, from 1980, spent five years on the censor's shelf.) Camera Buff (1979) is the tragicomic morality tale about a complacent Communist whose 8mm habit begins to control and destroy the very life he seeks to capture "as it is," while Blind Chance (1981), Kieslowski's first game of ambiguous narrative crisscross and his only state-censored film, has Boguslaw Linda living out three differing futures depending on whether or not he catches a train to Warsaw. No End (1985) is a kind of study for Blue in which grieving widow Grazyna Szapolowska seeks solace in the family of an imprisoned labor dissident, but better, and more pragmatic, is Kieslowski's first theatrical feature, The Scar (1976), a portrait of a factory project, the village it seeks to develop but instead decimates, and the project's appointed builder-director (Franciszek Pieczka), a modest humanist poisoned by the job from the inside out.
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A Road Map of the Soul: The Complete Kieslowski was organized by the Polish Cultural Institute of New York, the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Polish Film Archive; the retrospective is showing at Starz FilmCenter in the Tivoli through October 24. This week, catch The Office/Urzad on Sunday, October 1, at 2 p.m., and Monday, October 2, at 7:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.denverfilm.org.