On 6th of February 2014, the Panel about Kieślowski in the Istanbul Modern was booked full. Guests: Kieślowski‘s daughter Marta (Kieslowska-)Hryniak, Jacek Petrycki (KK’s operator), Krzysztof Wierzbicki (KK’s operator and assistant, director for I’m So-so) and Alain Martin (journalist and writer – 4 books about Kieślowski published in France)
Photo : 06.02.14, Krzysztof Wierzbicki speaks. Besides Maria Hryniak (-Kieślowska). In the background, people standing (no more seats!). © a. martin
« Comprising 47 films, the program ranges from the director’s early career as a documentary filmmaker conveying the social realities in Poland of the 70s to The Decalogue […] Besides film screenings, the program will include a talk on the cinema of Kieślowski. » (Istanbul Modern program)
All about the Talk – Full version of the Panel + Q&A.
Müge Tüfenk. [introducing the Panel]:
“First, I want to thanks the Adam Mieciewicz Institute for the great collaboration, and partnership. My second thank-you is for you all, being here for our interest.
We have 4 dear guests here: Marta Hryniak, she is the daughter of KK, K. Wierbyzki, his assistant and collaborator on many films, and a friend; Jacek Petrycki, cinematographer for many of his films; Alain Martin who is the only french, as a writer, he wrote three books on Kieślowski, he knows a lot of things about Kieślowski‘s cinema, so let’s start with Alain: could you give us a brief introduction on Kieślowski‘s cinema, I mean could you present a brief filmography, at least?
Alain Martin. I was just like you, I wanted to know more about this impressive director. So I met a lot of persons in Poland, in France, in Germany… and they all said it was a very special experience. His filmography started in the end of 60’s; after his third trying, he succeed at the exam to enter the famous Łódź School for cinema and made several films as a documentary director. Then, he started to go more and more on feature films (we could explain later, because it’s a long story). [to the audience: have you seen his movies, everybody? They nods] The films best known abroad are Three Colours and Double Life of Veronique, from his european period, but I think that if you start, for example, seeing the Decalogue, you want to know more, then you search for oldest film like e.g. The Scar or The Calm. A good event here, because you’ve got three weeks to discover his older movies. But, you just have one opportunity, tonight, to meet his daughter, Marta, and two operators who have worked on these films!
I have to be careful, because I know he was a careful man. For example, when in France and Switzerland, he always used a translator, even if he could understand, to be more precise, with his sharp language and short sentences. So, from my point of view, he always has been a Polish director (as he said in his interviews): he always went back to Poland, he said he still was a Polish man. He used two french companies [for co-production], but his films were polish movies, anyway.
MT. Ok, let’s start with Kieślowski‘s documentaries, because they were his first love. Between 1966 and 1980’s, he produced a lot of them. So, these films explored social, economical, political realities in Poland, and he explored polish people. Could you say more to us about that reality background, Jacek: the censorship, the communist era in Poland?
Jacek Petrycki: At the beginning of Kieślowski‘s work in Poland, a revolution in technology happened, to make films. The new wave of documentary films and the technological new possibilities came together; actually with the development of light cameras, possibility to penetrate deeper the reality. This reality was very special, in Poland. Until 1989, this country was under communism. When Kieślowski made his documentaries, in the seventeens, we were dominated by the sovietic empire, but Poland was a very special country: we had a small piece of freedom, and a very specific situation, because it was possible to see that this system was not stable, he was bringing the economy to the ruin. Every ten years, they were a kind of change of power in Poland and, because of this, we think, every power wanted to have, in the background, a new wave of criticism against the power, because the new power was always ready, if something went wrong -and it happened all the time- to say: “we knew it before!” and they supported the films that were not against the regime -nobody said communism regime was bad- but people who were practicing it and who said it was no so good. Cinematography was financed in Poland by the State and… they were financing the film against the power: not only Kieślowski but his friends too, a group of filmmakers who, step by step, were showing small examples of bad dysfunctions in the system, for example the school, the hospital… We learned to use a very metaphoric language of cinema, to show small reality, and the audience showed it as a whole thing. A kind of paradox that we could do these films.
Another thing: this power was proud of talented people and they wanted to show them. So, even if they were criticized something, it was a kind of legitimation abroad.
Freedom was very limited in Poland. You cannot imagine: for example, we couldn’t get a passport to go abroad. But, sometimes, when we were presenting our films at the festivals, we could get the passport for a week…
Krzysztof Wierzbicki: An interesting thing about Kieślowski and other directors: their films were criticizing the system, some kind of intervention against the system. And when the system collapsed, there were no more interesting for people, because [audience] forgot about what happened in those times. […]
Suddenly, we saw that the days were as good as in universal films. They do not show only the system, which was no more, but they found universal values. For example First Love, a film about two young people, almost children, who have a child. In communism times, everything was hard to obtain for this small child; life was very hard and everything was unbelievably terrible. And they found themselves as a couple with child and they had love… Kieślowski wanted to show this. But the system was against love, against people who wanted to love each other and to love this child. So it was a very strong expression of what we were thinking about. Now, when you see this film, reality is different, but it is so universal that you could think it was made yesterday! This was the great value of Kieślowski: the films were not just publicity, they were universal. You can say that about documentaries but also about his first feature films, for example Personal or The Calm. Even Krzysztof Piesiewicz, scriptwriter and collaborator, said “The Calm is a fantastic film, because it is about Life as the whole. The main character of this film is every man.” This was the phenomena of Kieślowski: when we see his films now, we feel it has been made one year ago.
Marta H(-K). When my father was making documentaries, I was a child or I was not even born, so I cannot remember at all… For a very long time, I don’t know why, but I thought that my father was a very famous actor, and I was very proud of this. And I thought my mother was a model. […] That’s what I remember from these times. I don’t even remember my father being absent at home. He must have been, because it takes time to make films, but I cannot remember. I have the impression he was always there. A very nice time in my life, anyway.
M. Alain, how does his films shape is artistic identity, what can we tell when we see his documentaries, about his cinema? How was the change to documentary and the contribution of these films to feature films ?
AM. Kieślowski changed from documentary to feature films because he was a very careful men. There were some troubles, for example with First Love, when he was shooting this young couple: it could be dangerous for them.
Another thing, in this same film, you can see the man crying on the phone when the baby is born. And Kieślowski had just come to the border of intimacy. So he decided to stop to make new documentaries by this way. He said it was better to make his next films with actors and actresses, because they were paid for. And even if they have real tears, that’s different.
But I think, even in his feature films, he always has looked with the same glance, same sorts of shots, and so on.
MT. Features films were more -that’s my point of view- about fundamental questions, complex human feelings… how one live. What can you say about his character, in life, generally. Jacek ?
JP. I think that Kieślowski, as a human being, was more important than as a film-maker. Working with him, I could see that he made film like his job, very professional. And, at the end of his life, he said: “it’s too late, I cannot do anything else, even if I’m trying to”. But he said [too]: “it’s my duty, I feel the thing that I must do…” more than this, his humanity: he was very simple on location or during the work, he didn’t stop thinking about all the people of the crew. He knew all of them, he knew all their stories. In the morning, when they were meeting, he was aware of somebody ill or something… It’s so important.
Also, his first most important quality: he was loyal. Loyal to people and to himself. It’s very hard to find another director that had so very serious and definitive declaration in his life. First, he said: “I will not made any documentaries anymore” and, at the end of his life, he said: “I will not make films anymore”. We knew he was serious. Because he was very loyal and he must program his life, in some way. We knew he was very exhausted, at the end of his life. Three Colours took two years and it was very hard, especially knowing his attitude to the crew. He hated meetings with journalists and interviews.
KW. …and festivals!
JP. But he always said: “You know, my producer has a confidence in me, he gave me the money, he must get the money back.” So, he made these awful journeys, promoting films and so on. Because he was loyal.
KW. It is very important, what Jacek said. I would like to add… Kieślowski said: “Life is more important than filmmaking”: it was his family, his home, his dogs (he loved dogs). When I was preparing the film about him, I’m So-so, he said: “OK we’ll do this film, but keep far away from my family and from my dogs. I can answer you any question you ask, but no privacy”. We were limited by these words he said, but it happened that it was better for the film. […]
Kieślowski was a fantastic observer: he loved to observe people, life and reality. And that’s why his films are so realistic.
And he was so funny! He played many roles: from time to time he was the man the Party was very proud of and in the same time, he was the guy who came from country, another time, aso. Zbigniew Preisner, his composer, said: “I would like to have Kieślowski in my cabaret!” [nb: the underground cabaret in Krakow: Piwnica Pod Baranami]. This feature is characteristic for his way of life.
Latter, when he was very tired, he was sad and for the people who were meeting him, as journalists, and so on, they said “Ho, no, Kieślowski, so serious man, so sad!”… But we knew him as a real funny guy.
MT. I remember a quote: “I’m a pessimist person”… Do you define him as a pessimist person?
MHK. Yes. A kind of. He said: “everything that start well ends up bad, and everything that start bad ends up even worse” [laugh] Of course, we was a pessimist, but in everyday life, he wasn’t. He was funny, as you couldn’t expect… so it was funnier. [Laugh] He was funny even if he didn’t look like a funny person. And in his professional life, he was extremely serious. I would say, one thing he was repeating : “you have to be careful with every people, with everything you do…” It’s true that he knew everybody: he really cared, he looked at you, he really listened to you. He had blue eyes. I loved talking to him, because [in that moment] he was 100% with me, and he always understand, even if he didn’t appreciated what I was saying… A very careful and responsible person. I think it was the main characteristic of my father and I really loved him and missing so much. I really knew I could depend on him… He was amazing.
JP. Something more about humor, in the pure sense… He always wanted to understand and to show that things in our life are complicated, not simple, not always black and white… So, his sense of humor in a very tragic situation: in 1981, after small revolution started by the trade union Solidarity, Martial law was declared in Poland. And that was connected with locking some studios: nobody could make films and we even did not want to make films: there was a kind of military Coup.
Almost all the society started to protest, in different ways. He could not protest as a director; [so] he invented something, using a script for his plans… We were talked to take the phone book, to pick up some names and to call people: “Do you support the General who made the Coup”. If somebody said: “no, I don’t”, so we were saying: “we love you, congratulations…” and if somebody said “Yes, I do”, so we were obliged to say: “Please, we are making a TV program with the group of people which support military power, please come, in a week time, at six o’clock, in front of the TV building”. There was many of us making these phone calls and then, at six o’clock, Kieślowski made a phone call to the milicja: “You know, there is a group of illegal persons in front of the television”.
AM. I would like to ad: Krzysztof [W.] quoted Kieślowski saying: “Life is more important than cinema”. When Marta said it seems he was not outside home or abroad, I think -as far as I know- he was able, even on location in France or Switzerland, to come back to Poland just for the week-end or some day, to see his family and Marta. And he took his car to go back! (because he was found about mechanics and cars, as you know). This, after a very serious week as a director, because [along the day] he was with the DP, before the set, then on the set all the day, then he had rehearsals with actors for the next day, then editing, maybe until midnight. [Marta adds: Crazy…]
MT. May be the next question would be: why they call him the Poet of cinema, what does it means, should we talk about his visual esthetics, the power of his stories? Why is he a poet, what do you think?
AM. He liked to write stories, to communicate with people. He always said, in Polish: “Nie wiem, nie wiem!”… that is to say: “I don’t know!”. He did not give answers, just put questions. So, as you speak about poetry, may be it could be this parallel: he just put a frame, a simple story, and you have to introduce your life, your feelings, your answer to his questions. That is my point of view.
MT. Jacek, what was is imagery, photography? […]
JP. I worked with him when he was still continuing his vision coming from the documentary. The only which was important in the picture was reality. That was the only thing that really mattered. We almost didn’t discuss the style of the movie, because it was obvious -except No End- that he must look like real life. This was the visual value of the story should be. When he started to make his very universal films, for example Dekalog, he suddenly discovered that there is something important as the look of the film. This why he worked really with the best directors of photography. But he didn’t care, he just employed very good artists and obtain a very good photography for these specifics movies. His poetry was rather what Alain said: he could create a very simple story, very non dramatic story, in the way that it was becoming metaphorical, emotionally provocative.
His poetry was rather first of all in scriptwriting, I think. And, secondly, in his vision of reality and not in terms of photography but in terms of observation of live.
MT. And we wrote ten Decalogs. Each Decalog was directed and shot by another cinematographer. What was the story behind it?
KW. Kieślowski wanted to write scripts only. And to give young directors and directors of photography a chance to make films. So he wrote these ten scripts and, suddenly, he noticed that they were very good and he said: “oh, no, I don’t give them to other directors, I’ll direct them myself!” The former idea: each film was made by another director…
But I want to comment what Jacek said: Poetry was very specific. In my opinion, great artists, filmmakers, good films should be classified on three levels:
– first, reality: it happens what happens, real life;
– second level: psychological, with relations between people, love, aso.
– third: about the sense of life, with something even metaphysical.
I don’t know if it was a gift of God, but Kieślowski invented some scenes metaphysical although at the same time they are realistic.
In Personal, for example, two friends, tailors, have to spend the all night in the theatre because they are preparing costumes for the opening show in the Opera. They are looking through the window and one of them says:
And showing inside the room they were working:
– And there? (looking over the window)
– What’s more? What do you feel?
– And here?
And I asked him: “What does it mean?! Why did you write such a scene?I don’t understand… Why?”
“I don’t know”, he answered. But this [Personal] is one of the best in Kieślowski‘s films.
Then, The Calm: they were caracteristic visions of horses. And I asked Kieślowski: “What those horses mean?”:
“I don’t know what these horses are… Maybe freedom… maybe not…”
And I loved this statement of him. You know, when you look at something, it’s real. But it means more than the reality. And this is the secret of our life.
AM. The same thing for the character played by Artur Barcis in Dekalog, the young man you can see in all the Decalog films: Artur asked Kieślowski about “Who is this man?” and he never get a good answer: “I don’t know, I don’t know”… It could be a witness, an angel… but nobody knows actually who this man was supposed to be… and this is very important for the story.
MT. And that is the reason of the international success of the ten Dekalog, a big success. Ten Commandments took place in grey, gloomy [atmosphere]. But his name became known with Dekalog.
AM. Yes, because it is universal, even if shooted in Poland, in a very specific atmosphere. And you can see this film just like documentaries about Poland in eighties. But [obviously] it is more. When I said it was just simple stories, I did not mean weak stories, but strong stories, dealing with choices in life. He always spoke about responsibility. In each episode of Decalogue, you have a man or a woman who has to made a very important choice for his life, but also for other people’s life.
MT. And in 1995, after Three Colours, he decided to quit filmmaking. What was the real reason, behind it?
AM. Several explanations…
JP. Hmm, his life was programmed, in some way. I think it could be something else, beside of a basic thing that he was very exhausted, then thought maybe about another life. He confessed that he never stopped writing… I have the feeling that he closed his artistic way… If you can imagine great artists making films, like Bergman of Fellini, their artistic way is quite simple: the first film is quite similar to the last one. Well, when we discuss about Kieślowski, his way was tremendous. He started with visions of workers in factory and finished with big question about the all universe. So, may be he just went on to the point. I don’t know. But, definitely, he planed that if he wanted to continue his life, may be he shouldn’t risk another goal.
AM. [Actually] he didn’t say he stopped making films, just filming, on location. And he continued to write scripts. Anyway, I agree with what Jacek said. He came from documentary to incredible Three Colours, and he put a lot in Red [his last film]…
JP. When you analyze the script for Heaven, I cannot see anything new in it. Repeting the same way of viewing the world. So, maybe he realized that he couldn’t make any step forward.
MT. Marta, did he talk about this?
MHK. Yes, and although he said he was very tired, what Jacek said could be true. But I think his sense of responsibility towards the producer, towards the public: he was tired about having this responsibility. We wouldn’t like to fail. All this big machine… Before, he worked in Poland, it was easier but different: the money was different, the public was different, we was well known… I think he had to think about his responsibility, a part of why he was so tired. Of course he worked a lot: so many movies in such a short time, Dekalog, twelve films in two or three years: it’s crazy. I remember he shot for three different films for Dekalog the same day in the same building! It was actually a good idea to shot everything in the same place, but how can you change everything in your head, with different actors and cameramen? And during Three colours, I was in Paris and I remember he was shooting during the day and editing at night, so he came back home at four in the morning and, at seven, he had shooting, again, then editing another film he made before. So it’s incredible, in your mind, to change your way of thinking, subjects and everything… It was impossible to act like this for longer time…
MT. What mean cinema, for you, in general, and now?
MHK. Strangely, I wasn’t interested by cinema, when a teenager, and then I had friends and I saw everything, but my parents didn’t go to the movies: may be three times… we saw Star Wars -it was great!-. But they never introduced me to [the world of] cinema, I made it by myself. Of course, I saw his movies first, because of the premiere… In the beginning, I did not understand, then I start to understand and to love it. Then I went very often on the set… I remember, when making Blue: they built an old parisian building, with the view of Paris; everything was fake, of course. And he showed me everything, all the details, how they painted, an “here is the flowers and here look at the lamp…” And we walked all the day… I think he loved small moments but he didn’t love shooting: he prefered editing. Actually, when he said he wouldn’t made movies anymore, he really wanted to have an editing studio, editing movies by other people.
MT. I think we have so many people here, we can give the microphone to some of them. […]
Q. A specific question: in his film Double Life of Veronique, one Veronique meets the other, in the middle of a political demonstration, in Krakow. I wondered why did she see her in that place and in that time?
MHK. I don’t know… I think the reason could be Kieślowski was more interested by life, the politics was not so important for him.
AM. I have the same feeling. Because if you look to Blue, Juliette Binoche is in cafe, in Paris, and she speaks with a young boy, who found the cross. And if you look carefully to the film, you can see a demonstration against Europe, in the background. Very parallel, because the important thing is this dialogue between the widow and the young man, and also for Veronique and Weronika: the spot is not on the demonstration, even if there is the big square with a lot of people: it doesn’t care, you have to concentrate on Veronique-Weronika’s story.
Q. I understood. He wanted to make the same ordinary… It’s metaphysical, he wanted to magical realism, I mean.
MHK. I don’t know, I would say that he just showed the reality outside these two people is not important anymore, what is important is the magic moment when they have seen each other. That what it is about.
AM. For these two sequences, the cross [in Blue], and Weronika [on the square], the story is so stronger because you’ve got this other action on the background…
Some one ask a question about Kieślowski‘s personal feelings and religion (in Turkish):
MHK. I cannot really talk for him: his movies are what he wanted to say. I know more than the public, of course, but I feel I am not authorized to say more. I think, if he would sitting here, we wouldn’t agree. People ask me private questions, that’s why I am here, but in the same time, my father was a very private person and he would never talk about his private life, or not so much… But I think f you watch the movies and you have an opinion on his religion or is idea, that is more or less what it was in reality. Probably the best answer…
Q. What about the casting with actors and actresses?
JP. Krzysztof could say more, because he was employed in this section, but I can tell you something to understand it: he worked with Krzysztof during his so-called realistic period, the first movies which were very closed to the reality. The idea of the casting was very simple: the reality. That means, he said: “I want an actor who is not lying to the audience”, who play in a way that is so real that everybody could say it is real life. Of course, it was not enough. The other thing, very soon, he thought the casting shouldn’t be very direct. In the casting you can read: “a very young handsome man”; then it should be a young man, of course, but he could be a little tricky, not very direct beauty. A small example of this way of thinking, in one of his first films, we couldn’t find the actor for the boss of his main character, the chief of the construction group. And very soon, he said: I have the idea that he could not find a man who could be this guy… so, maybe it should be a woman. That was this way of thinking: it would be more interesting if this cruel character would be a woman. But Krzysztof could probably said more…
KW. For Red film, he said to his producer that he like very much Jean-Louis Trintignant and “may be we could try to have it” but the producer said: “no, he is not in the movies anymore, he is in the countryside, resting and doing nothing”. And Krzyszek said: “please, try. Send him our script.” Jean-Louis get the script and they met at the airport, in Paris. Jean-Louis came to Paris and Krzysztof went to Warsaw. And do you think they spoke about the script? No, they spoke about cars: good cars, bad cars, safe cars, aso. They were many people around in the airport. Then Krzysztof said: “Do you want the part in my film?” And Jean-Louis said: “Do you want me?” “Of course…” So we do it.
[And when one asked to him:] “How do you talk with actors about their role?” [he answered:] “I don’t speak. That’s all. Because when the actor is the good choice, of course, he know what to play!…” That was is approach.
AM. This casting was also a talk with a man or a woman about everything except cinema and he choose actors for their own character. And he had casting also for technical crews and he had the same talk with editing, sound, aso, to choose a technician not about his job but more about his way of life, his feelings…
Q. Two questions: first making his Trilogy is there such a kind of political stand up against the communism regime in his country and second one, why, after the collapsal of communism, the former Russian countries cannot produced new directors and new movies, what happens, why no more Kieślowski, no more Polanski?
JP. First of all, Kieślowski was deeply disappointed with the transformation of the second political transformation of the country in the East. I think, all his life he was thinking of who bad we were living. Suddenly, there was this huge tense, millions of people, imagine, it will change your life. And after the transformation, especially pessimist persons, could discover it is not leaving to the Heaven, that the reality is very complex and very dirty. And they were plenty of people who decided that to help this change we should’t touch this reality, as we did with the communists. May be it’s half of the answer.
KW. Kieślowski said: “You know, before, we were oppressed by political censorship. And now we are oppressed by economical censorship. I don’t know what is worse.” Life was terrible under communism, “and after, also”, as he said. And what we achieved, I ask him? “Shit”, he said.
JP. What why Dekalog was so popular? One of the point is that maturity of the ten films, commenting the Ten commandments in a very tricky way. They are not forward sake. Someone yes: Not kill is not kill, of course. No doubt. But maturity is the idea of this, showing that all our life and all our are not so simple as you think. I think it is the same with Liberté, Fraternité…
AM. About White, Equality, he said, you know: “Everybody want to be equal, but somebody more equal than the others”… That as more about the New Poland, after communism.
Q. For Blue and White, they are scenes in the court, were they planned in the same time?
AM. Yes, it was one special day, I was lucky to see a short film took by the crew. Just like for Decalogue, you’ve got the two DP: Slawomir Idziak for Blue and Edward Klosinski for White on the same set. You had two plans for the two movies and like on the script, you’ve got the Blue and White in the same building, in Paris.
JP. I cannot resist to tell another thing: when the boycott of filming during the Martial Law was finished, Kieślowski‘s decided to make is last documentary. He declared before he stopped documentary, but because of this unusual situation, he wanted to make his last documentary. The idea was very simple: we wear allowed to go on the court and we had chosen all the political trials against the activists of Solidarity. who were being judged and getting, all of them, one by one very serious sentences. The idea of the film was showing the accused persons : we’ll just see him and we heard the sentence. Majority, they were beautiful persons, students and so on, we could heard they were stucking against communist power; that was the idea of the movie. For the first shooting day, we set up the camera, and suddenly, the camera just set: “Not guilty”. So we said, ok, we lost one day, we’ll have another day. The second day: “not guilty”. The lawyers understood then when the camera were in the court they were releasing the people. So there was a queue of lawyers to Kieślowski who’s said please come tomorrow, room number this and this. So we could do it for a few days, but it was the end of our shooting days and we haven’t got the film, but the idea for No end, as a fiction.
MT. A big thank for you! [applause]
All about Kieślowski in Istanbul, the dinner (05.02.14) Sitting: Jan Hryniak (film director), Marta Hryniak and Kamila Kowalska (Adam Mickiewicz Institute).
THE question: “Which film of Kieślowski do you prefer?”. On the right: Müge Tüfenk and Olga Wysocka (manager of the Turkish project, Adam Mickiewicz Institute).
Guests trapped in the elevator! Fortunately, they were issued a few minutes after, to explore the Museum and attend the dinner. (Left to right: Jacek Petrycki, Jan and Marta Hryniak, Krzysztof Wierzbicki -Alain Martin holds the camera).
Taksim square in the evening. The Istanbul Museum is located in the south of Taksim, nearby Galata Bridge.
All pictures: © alain martin
The previous evening, gathered during a friendly dinner: Müge Tüfenk – Istanbul Modern’s Director of Film Programs, Olga Wysocka (manager of the Turkish project at Adam Mickiewicz Institute), Kamila Kowalska (Adam Mickiewicz Institute), Dervis Zaim (director), Emine Yildirim (producer), Melis Behlil, Cem Altinsaray, Senem Erdine, Senay Aydemir,Vecdi Sayar, Cüneyt Cebenoyan (film critics), Aysegül Ozbek (journalist for art and culture), etc. and the guests for the Panel (Jacek Petrycki, Krzysztof Wierzbicki, Marta Hryniak with her husband, Alain Martin) at the top of the museum building, overlooking the Bosphorus.
[am, 14 + 22-02-14]