Krzysztof Kieslowski

Active - 1966 - 2006  |   Born - Jun 27, 1941   |   Died - Mar 13, 1996   |   Genres - Drama, Mystery, Romance

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Biography by AllMovie

A towering figure of Eastern European cinema, Krzysztof Kieslowski was born in Warsaw, Poland, on June 27, 1941. His formative years, spent under the specters of Hitler and Stalin, were nomadic; his father suffered from tuberculosis, and the family traveled from one sanatorium to another. At the age of 16, Kieslowski entered Fireman's Training College. His stay was short-lived, instilling in him a lifelong loathing of uniforms and disciplines. To avoid military service, he returned to school, later attending the Warsaw College for Theatre Technicians. In 1965, after several previous rejections, he was finally accepted into the famed Lodz Film School -- the same institution which launched the careers of Roman Polanski, Andrzej Wadja, Jerzy Skolimowski, and Krzysztof Zanussi -- and made his first short feature, Tramwaj (The Tram), the following year. The communist-controlled Poland of the 1960s and '70s was a nation of great political unrest. Consequently, film emerged as a crucial means of communication as well as a kind of social conscience, implicitly depicting a way of life denied by Party dominance. At the time, documentaries were considered as artistically important and commercially viable as features. With 1966's Urzad (The Office), Kieslowski first turned to the documentary format, satirizing bureaucratic policy via a state-owned insurance office. He helmed 1968's Zdjecie (The Photograph), a 32-minute documentary for Polish television. Upon graduating in 1969, Kieslowski's focus turned exclusively to documentary filmmaking beginning with Z Miasta Lodzi (From the City of Lodz). His early professional work consisted of a series of one-act films designed to be shown in theaters as supporting material along with features. Among Kieslowski's documentaries of the early '70s were Bylem Zolnierzem (I Was a Soldier), Fabryka (Factory), Przed Rajdem (Before the Rally)' and Refren (Refrain). In 1972 he released a pair of films commissioned by the Lubin Copper Mine, Miedzy Wroclawiem a Zielona Gora (Between Wroclaw and Zielona Gora) and Podstawy BHP w Koplani Miedzi (The Principles of Safety and Hygiene in a Copper Mine). Robotnicy '71: Nic o Nas Bez Nas (Workers '71: Nothing About Us Without Us), an account of the December 1970 strike which helped lead to the downfall of First Secretary of the Communist Polish United Workers' Party Wladyslaw Gomulka soon followed. After the 1973 documentary Murarz (Bricklayer), Kieslowski made his first television drama, Przejscie Podziemne (Pedestrian Subway). Upon completing a pair of 1974 documentaries, Przeswietlenie (X-Ray) and Pierwsza Milosc (First Love), he helmed 1975's Zyciorys (Curriculum vitae), a "dramatic documentary" depicting the cross-examination of a Communist Party member threatened with expulsion. While his story was fictional, the Party Control Committee deciding his fate was real. The project was the subject of considerable controversy and criticism, and many Poles charged that Kieslowski had flirted with the Party in making the film. Throughout the remainder of his career, public consensus on the director remained split in his native land -- many greatly admired his work, while others considered him an opportunist, as well as a traitor to himself and his country. Despite his high level of visibility at home, Kieslowski remained unknown throughout the rest of the world. He did not make his first feature-length TV drama until 1975, debuting with Personel. After a pair of 1976 documentaries, Szpital (Hospital) and Klaps (Slate), he made his theatrical feature bow that same year with Blizna (The Scar). The TV drama Spokoj (The Calm) followed in quick succession, with three more documentaries -- Z Punktu Widzenia Nocnego Portiera (From a Night Porter's Point of View), Nie Wiem (I Don't Know), and Siedem Kobiet w Roznym Wieku (Seven Women of Different Ages) -- appearing over the next two years. Finally, the 1979 feature Amator (Camera Buff) launched Kieslowski to the forefront of the international cinema community. A satire about a factory worker (Jerzy Stuhr, who with Kieslowski co-wrote the screenplay) who becomes obsessed with his new eight millimeter camera to the point of jeopardizing his marriage and job, the movie won the Grand Prix at the Moscow Film Festival, garnering global recognition for its director. With the dawn of the 1980s came a period of Polish upheaval. In August 1980, the year Kieslowski released the documentaries Dworzec (Station) and Gadajace Glowy (Talking Heads), the free trade union dubbed Solidarity was born. A period of societal freedom followed, and Kieslowski mounted a pair of 1981 features, Przypadek (Blind Chance) and Krotki Dzien Pracy (Short Working Day), both openly critical of communist control. However, in December 1981, martial law was declared throughout Poland, effectively bringing the nation's film industry to its knees: Film stock was in short supply, and equipment -- previously supplied by state-financed production houses -- was no longer made available. Under such impossible conditions, Kieslowski attempted to undertake several projects, with little success. Even after martial law was suspended in 1982, the country's financial outlook was grim, and apart from the 1984 feature Bez Konca (No End), he did not work again for many years. Finally, in 1988, Kieslowski was given the green light to begin filming The Decalogue, a ten-part miniseries commissioned for Polish television. Even as he turned more and more toward drama, Kieslowski insisted that his work remained true to the principles of documentary filmmaking, his movies evolving less through action than ideas. Nowhere was this more apparent than in The Decalogue, a decidedly apolitical series, based on the Ten Commandments, exploring the lives of a group of tenants in a Warsaw housing estate. The ambitious project was a success with both viewers and critics, and two of the episodes were eventually extended into feature-length pictures and distributed internationally. With the fall of communism throughout Eastern Europe, Solidarity was reinstated in 1989, and Poland became a free nation for the first time since the end of World War II. In the face of continued financial troubles, however, Kieslowski relocated to France, where he completed 1991's masterful The Double Life of Veronique, another global success. In 1993, he mounted the "Three Colors" trilogy, a triptych based on the colors of the French flag and their symbolic representations; the first film, Blue, a meditation on liberty, won several Cesar Awards (France's equivalent of the Oscars), and also netted a handful of Golden Globe nominations, including a Best Actress nomination for star Juliette Binoche; White, an essay on equality which garnered Kieslowski the Silver Bear Award for direction at the Berlin International Film Festival, followed later that same year. However, it was the final film in the trilogy, 1994's Red, which brought Kieslowski his greatest acclaim. An exploration of fraternity featuring Double Life of Veronique star Irene Jacob, it was a tremendous commercial and critical favorite, collecting nominations from the Cesars and Golden Globes. Kieslowski even earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. At the peak of his powers, the filmmaker chose to walk away from the limelight, and upon the completion of Red, he announced his retirement from movies. Reportedly, he was considering a return to the cinema with a new trilogy based around the themes of heaven, hell, and purgatory when, on March 13, 1996, he entered the hospital to undergo open-heart surgery. Tragically, Kieslowski suffered a heart attack while on the operating table and died. He was 54 years old.

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