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The Living Legacy of a Great Humanist

TIMES FILM CRITIC

It’s a coincidence, the kind the director would have relished.

For the next month, partly by happenstance, partly by design, Los Angeles will be the world’s undisputed Krzysztof Kieslowski capital. Starting tonight, a variety of theaters and institutions will combine to give audiences an unprecedented opportunity to experience the entire range of the Polish director, whose reputation has so grown since his unexpected death in 1996 at age 54 that to call him the premier filmmaker of the last two decades hardly seems enough.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Sept. 22, 2000 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday September 22, 2000 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Phone number--The phone number for tickets for the World According to Kieslowski film series at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was incorrect in Thursday’s Calendar Weekend. For ticket sales over the phone, the number for Vista Ticketing is (877) 522-6225. The museum box-office number is (323) 857-6010.

Kieslowski’s works, the ones that stand alone as well as the astonishing “Decalogue” and the “Three Colors” series, are invariably as thoughtful, provocative and deliberate as great novels. A filmmaker to his core, Kieslowski had a concern with how to live in the world as well as a gift for looking deeply yet casually (as if it were no big deal) into the depths of the human condition that made him the great humanist director of our time.

Though they can be enigmatic and elliptical, Kieslowski’s films are always redeemed by their deep emotionality, by how much the director cared about his characters. During his visit to Los Angeles to collect an honorary Oscar this year, Kieslowski compatriot Andrezj Wajda recalled that when the director was first in Paris (where “Three Colors: Blue” is set) he spent all the time he could in large department stores. No, he wasn’t shopping, Wajda eventually realized, he was intensely studying people, wanting to understand them, wanting to get them right.

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Kicking off this massive Kieslowski-thon is tonight’s panel discussion on the director, starting at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Moderated by Annette Insdorf, author of the excellent study of the director’s work “Double Lives, Second Chances,” the panel is scheduled to include longtime screenwriting collaborator Krzysztof Piesiewicz, fellow Polish director Agnieszka Holland and actress Julie Delpy, the star of “Three Colors: White.” It will be followed by a showing of “Tram,” his 1966 student film, and 1979’s darkly satirical “Camera Buff,” the film that brought Kieslowski to international attention.

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It’s on Friday that the film showing begins in earnest. Kieslowski’s masterwork and one of the indisputably great works of modern cinema, the 10-part “Decalogue,” gets its first extended run in Los Angeles. These 53- to 58-minute films, each focusing on one of the Ten Commandments, will be showing in two theaters, two films per week, for five weeks. Commandments One and Two start things off from Friday to next Thursday at the Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills before moving over to the Playhouse 7 in Pasadena from Sept. 29 to Oct. 5.

Though the cumulative impact of all 10 films (originally made for Polish TV) makes seeing the entire “Decalogue” one of cinema’s transcendent experiences, each segment, like each commandment, has an independent existence. Seeing even one is rewarding, and no matter which episodes are chosen, they’ll probably be among the best films you’ll see all year.

Also starting Friday is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s 10-day series called “The World According to Kieslowski.” “Three Colors: Blue” will be shown here, as well as the longer versions of two of the “Decalogue” parts, “A Short Film About Love” and “A Short Film About Killing.” Of just as much, if not more, interest is the rare chance to see the earlier masterworks of the director’s career, as well as many of the shorts that originally made his name.

First up at LACMA is 1981’s masterful “Blind Chance,” a provocative, unsettling meditation on the importance of fate and coincidence that prefigured everything from “Run Lola Run” to “Sliding Doors” to the director’s own “Double Life of Veronique.”

A young medical student named Witek, eager to get home to Warsaw 10 days after the death of his father, rushes to catch a train. Depending on whether he catches it or not, three versions of his life--party member, activist, apolitical professional--play out. While this may sound schematic, it’s anything but. Complex, effortless, rich in emotion, the film explores the difficulties of giving moral responses to the dilemmas life confronts us with. Even fate, apparently, leaves us with some room for free will.

Just as involving is Saturday night’s 1985 “No End,” which features the luminous Grazyna Szapolowska (also the star of “A Short Film About Love”) as a woman trying to survive the recent death of her husband. In life a lawyer committed to defending those arrested for political reasons, the husband hovers even in death over his family, his client and the client’s new attorney with moody, unforeseen results. Kieslowski’s first collaboration with writer Piesiewicz and another longtime associate, composer Zbigniew Preisner, “No End” is grief-stricken, sensual and hard to forget.

A Rare Chance to See the Master’s Short Works

The greatest rarities on LACMA’s program are Kieslowski’s legendary short films, almost impossible to see in this country. Two of the most interesting, 1978’s “Seven Women of Different Ages” and 1976’s “Hospital,” are part of the Sept. 29 program.

Though only 16 minutes long, “Seven Women” re-creates the entire world of a Polish ballet school by focusing on one female for each day of the week, starting with one of the youngest students and ending with one of the oldest teachers. Even at this early stage of his career, Kieslowski had an eye for the telling detail and a fascination with behavior in all its forms that was never to leave him.

“Hospital” is slightly longer at 21 minutes; it details the hour-by-hour events of a grueling 31-hour medical shift in a Polish hospital. Focusing on the doctors’ faces and not the patients’ agonies, taking us behind scenes we might not want to see behind, this short is especially chilling given that the director died unnecessarily after heart bypass surgery in a Polish hospital. “According to his friends,” Insdorf writes, “the hospital was to blame, as the doctors were not sufficiently familiar with the new equipment that had been imported.”

Seeing so much of Kieslowski’s work underlines even more how great was the loss to filmmaking when he died. “Every generation craves a ray of light,” a character in “Blind Chance” says. “Without that hope life would be pitiful.” Without Kieslowski, the international film scene, if not pitiful, is definitely a sadder and lonelier place.

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Schedule of Screenings and Events * Kieslowski panel tonight at 7:30 p.m. followed by “Tram” and “Camera Buff” at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 247-3000.

* The World According to Kieslowski at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Bing Theater, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (888) 522-6225. All screenings start at 7:30 p.m.

* Friday: “Blind Chance,” “Personnel.”

* Saturday: “Three Colors: Blue,” “No End.”

* Sept. 29: “First Love,” “Hospital,” “Seven Women of Different Ages,” “A Short Film About Love.”

* Sept. 30: “From a Night Porter’s Point of View,” “A Short Film About Killing,” “The Calm.”

* “The Decalogue”: Two parts screen weekly Friday-Oct. 26 at the Fine Arts Theater, 8556 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 652-1330 and Sept. 29-Nov. 2 at the Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena (626) 844-6500.


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