on 6 February 2005
Shot in 1981, this influential film by Krzysztof Kieslowski was subjected to years of censorship by the Polish authorities and did not become public property until the Cannes Film Festival in 1987. Kieslowski explores the role of chance, how seemingly innocuous decisions or events can change our lives. Witek is a fundamentally decent young man, studying medicine, who runs to catch a train. It seems as if his career and his future depend on him boarding the train, but Kieslowski replays the scenario three times. On each occasion, Witek experiences a different future: whether he catches the train or not, a different set of circumstances becomes a possibility and his fate is left in the hands of blind chance.
We are shown three possible futures for Witek - as Communist Party functionary, as Christian and political radical, or as an apolitical family man, content in his role as a doctor. Each of his options provides a commentary on the politics of Poland in the 1980's, most significantly in its reflection on the role of censorship and how ideas can shape our understanding of the world (and of ourselves).
Poland, of course, was rent with changes in the 1980's - as was the entire Soviet bloc. Where would it go as a nation, as a political entity? Kieslowski and his contemporaries were brought up in Marxist dialectical materialism, suggesting that there was an inevitability to the emerge and dominance of the Communist Party. So what role is played by chance? If the plot to assassinate Hitler had succeeded in 1944, Poland might have been liberated by Western armies and politicians, not Soviet ones.
The life of a single individual can be as random as that of Witek: we are only shown one moment in his life from which dramatic changes are sparked - the implication is that there can be infinite possibilities within a lifespan (we are told, for instance, that Witek is a twin, but that he alone survived birth). If an individual's life is open to blind chance, surely there can be no certainties in history, no inevitability that the Communist Party, or the Catholic Church, should rule Poland.
Marxist philosophy emphasises the role of duality - classically described as 'thesis' and 'antithesis', opposing forces clashing to provide a third, dynamic force of 'synthesis'. By rejecting the notion of duality, by emphasising that Witek has three possibilities, not two, Kieslowski is making a fundamental challenge to Communist doctrine. History is not predictable - it is random. Kieslowski would return to the theme of three choices in his "Three Colours" trilogy and in other areas of his work.
The film is firmly within the realist school of European film making - it is a fantasy about real life. The portrait he paints of his contemporary Poland is one stripped of glamour. This is a materially poor society, but one which is culturally and intellectually rich. People can make choices - they can uphold the State or they can oppose it ... or they can get on with their lives. What are the consequences of choice? What are the consequences of having no choice, of being simply the pawn of blind chance?
Kieslowski employs disorienting techniques - the camera takes the place of different characters during the production, putting you in the place of a number of the actors. How do we interpret the world? Are we just onlookers, or are we players? The director has the power to leave us as impassive members of the audience, or to elevate us to a temporary role as a participant in the film. Politicians have similar powers. And chance can strip us of self-determination and make us mere pawns.
A highly influential film, it is, perhaps, a slow starter. You do not really begin to engage with the characters until you appreciate that you are being shown the second of Witek's options; you do not really begin to understand the themes until you witness the third option and understand just how random chance can be. Kieslowski, himself, expressed dissatisfaction with the film, an opinion which defines his ability to be self-critical and to strive to push his art.
The extras provided on the DVD give valuable insight into his thinking, and into the role of the censor in political and artistic life, and make a significant contribution to your appreciation of the film. It's a film which can be viewed again and again: you lose nothing of your enjoyment in doing so - in fact a second or third viewing enhances your understanding, and will, perhaps, give you a taste for more of Kieslowski's work. A great European director, his films are essential (and thoroughly enjoyable) viewing for anyone with an interest in the cinema.
on 2 February 2008
The film centres on the life of a young medical student, Witek, who, depending on the stage in the film, either catches his train to Warsaw or misses it. The film then plays out the three ways in which Witek's life develops as a result of his success or failure to make the intended journey to Warsaw. The previous reviewer's assertion that 'Blind Chance' is a "more convoluted" version of 'Sliding Doors' is frankly absurd. 'Blind Chance' was released in 1981, the characters are actually well-constructed, the dialogue between characters is reasonably engaging and thought provoking, and many of the scenes are beautifully shot. The film also provides an interesting insight into life in Communist-era Poland. 'Sliding Doors', which appeared 17 years later, is just a pretty vacuous and predictable Hollywood production starring a token American blonde with a faux-English accent. So no, I don't agree.
Blind Chance is one of a number of early Kieslowski works released on DVD, and a film that deserves to be seen being an influence, both direct and indirect, to Sliding Doors (1998, it's referred to in the credits)& Run Lola Run (1999 respectively. It's the last of Kielowski's directly political works, a cycle that had run from the early documentaries and short films to full-length features The Scar and Camera Buff (both also issued).
Three-part episodic films have been a frequent mode in contemporary cinema (Mystery Train, Pulp Fiction, Run Lola Run), so Blind Chance can be seen as a major film from that angle. Kieslowski, writing on his own for the last time, offers three alternate stories based around Witek (Boguslaw Linda)catching a train. Variations on this theme occur- the first episode centres around joining the Communist party; the second sees him arrested, a path which leads to prison and becoming a militant political activist; and the third, sees him meet a female, settle down to a peaceful life of marriage, rejecting the world of politics and ends with an ironic twist of fate....
Kieslowski's film looks at chance and fate, themes that would recur in The Double Life of Veronique (the death, recurrence waiting for Veronique after Weronika dies)& Three Colours:Red (the way in which Valentine keeps missing her ideal lover, until fate conspires in another accident at the film's denoument). There are political elements here, notably in episodes 1 and 2, perhaps the third could be seen as a rejection of politics on Kieslowksi's part- as his work after shifted into an existential/philosophical mode that many found oblique. Blind Chance is very much a political film about Poland under Martial law, though despite the restrictions of the Communist rule- reflecting Kieslowksi's views regarding the effects of communism:
"Communism is like AIDS. That is, you have to die with it. You can't be cured. & that applies to anyone who's had anything to do with Communism regardless of what side they were on. It's irrelevant whether they were communists or anti-communists or entirely uncommited to either political side. It applies to everybody. If they've been exposed to the system as long as they have been in Poland- that is, for forty years- then Communism, its way of thinking, its way of life, its hierarchy of values, remains with them and there's no way of expelling it from their system...It stays inside. It exists, it remains and there's no way of getting rid of it. It doesn't particularly trouble me. I just know I've got it and know that I'll die with it, that's all. Not die of it, die with it. It only disappears when you disappear. The same as AIDS" (Kieslowski on Kieslowski, Faber)
Blind Chance is a brilliant film, in terms of style and technique it's intertesting; its political elements make it more so: a welcome issue on DVD and a reminder that Kieslowski was one of the great European auteurs.
Although, latterly, Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski made a point of toning down (or even completely ditching) the overt political content in his films, this early film (made in 1981 but suppressed by the Polish authorities until 1987) demonstrates in spades that the man was equally adept when dealing more directly with the political climate prevailing in his home country during its period of great upheaval (late70s/early 80s). In Blind Chance, Kieslowski ‘s tale of medical student, Bogusław Linda’s Witek, hinges on a chance event (essentially catching, or not catching, a train) which determines any one of three potential courses for the student’s future. And, although Kieslowski’s film, particularly the first two sections in which Witek, first, supports the Communist Party and, second, resists the party’s influence, addresses overt political themes, the director has (once again) expanded the scope of his film-making to address the much wider (and more universal) themes of chance, fate, time, memory, (religious) faith, love, death, freedom, trust and, in particular, the past and the future.
As well as his ability to tell emotive stories, Blind Chance also provides early evidence of Kieslowski’s technical skill as a film-maker, using the camera (courtesy of cinematographer Krzysztof Pakulski) to personalise Witek’s tale (as characters talk straight to the lens/Witek), and including a number of brilliant (and increasingly typical) cinematic 'devices’ (shots of a lone, rolling coin; cigarette ash dropping; a slinky descending the stairs; and (best of all) two juggling men). Similarly, although Blind Chance predates the start of Kieslowski’s collaboration with composer Zbigniew Preisner, the score by Wojciech Kilar is outstanding – its main, highly emotive, theme recurring at key points of the narrative. Acting-wise, the film is also pretty much flawless – 'familiar Kieslowski faces’ abound, as he assembles what was to become his regular acting troupe and he also establishes his habit of characters reappearing across different stories. Linda is excellent as the confused idealist Witek, looking to find his way in life and (alternately) taken in by (or resisting) the subtle, coercive influence of 'the party’. Similarly, each of the student’s 'love interests’ across the three narratives are impressive - Boguslawa Pawelec’s volatile Czuszka, Marzena Trybala’s Werka and (eventually Witek’s wife) Monika Gozdzik’s Olga. Also worthy of mention is Zbigniew Zapasiewicz’s softly-spoken party 'coercer’ Adam, whose subtle mind-games sum up the film’s pervading sense of political surveillance (a 'big brother’ effect). There is also a cameo role for Kieslowski-regular, the impressive Jerzy Stuhr, as a party member.
Then, as is Kieslowski’s wont, just when we’re beginning to relax, Witek having 'got through’ the political and religious machinations of the director’s first two storylines and is now happily married to Olga, with politics seemingly a thing of the past, the inescapability of the film’s title (and, perhaps, the 'political imperative’) comes back to haunt us. For me, a film to rank close to Kieslowski’s best work.
Blind Chance has a triangular structure,to give 3 versions of Witek's life.Kieslowski is turning inwards to underwrite his spiritual interpretation of a young man's life,buffeted by blind chance,coincidence and destiny.Film projects the conditional and future vistas,what may have happened or what might yet happen.Witek(Boguslaw Linda) is injected into 3 different scenarios of his life,one where joining the Communist Party,he works within the system to achieve a better life,one where he draws closer to belief in God(via the underground),one where he is a quietist/ apolitical doctor and marries.This covers the 3 main institutions:The Party, the church and lastly marriage.No one life is right or good.Each life is distinct and different,yet Witek remains the same.How much freedom do we have?How much is our life determined?How much does our will have to play existentially?
We see Witek after hearing his dying father's words,"..you don't have to be.." he gets the freedom to choose his own path,not become what his father wanted him to be,a doctor.He takes leave to look up an old girlfriend,seeking to get a Lodz to Warsaw train,he runs to get it and catches it,or in 2 more runs to catch the same train,he misses it and gets into a fight,or he misses it and meets a fellow medical student.This explores moral and political questions,forces us to watch closely and listen attentively through the narrative magnetism of cinema.In each scenario Witek is presented with a flight ticket to France,a symbol of escape from his duties.Duties should be derived from our morality.Each life takes him on a different path,with a different goal, and meets a different set of people,in each he loves a different woman. Kieslowski believed in destiny and even said that a person is somehow predestined to act in a certain way regardless of the circumstances. Witek never managed to reach France whether he caught or missed the train. His character takes three different life roads but essentially remains the same.People don't fundamentally change.
The screaming man at the start of the film and the explosive ending of the film are interconnected.We see at the start 12 fragmentary scenes which may be flashbacks to the past or possibly scenes not experienced but imagined. Witek feels he can remember the moment of his birth,surrounded by the victims of massacre by the Communist militia forces.In each life Witek does something of significant value,whether risking his life to save others,or promoting a political agenda to save Poland or becoming a doctor.His immediate situation is a matter of chance,but his reactions,choices,morality remain his own in response to this.At the end people from each scenario-a hostess,a priest and others,gather at the airport,repeating this idea of the disaster at the end of 3 Colours Red.Whatever life we find ourselves in,things go wrong.Kieslowski's metaphysics subtly permeates the film,also themes of interconnectivity and the shifts into subjectivity which are precurors of his later films.This structurally bold film is great(his best?).Blind Chance traces the inalterable trajectory of human destiny,the malleability of fate.
on 18 September 2006
This is absolutely the best Kieslowski film, and maybe one of the best highly intelectual films ever made, at the same high level as Ingmar Bergman films. So it requires from you that you THINK while you watch it. Don't try to eat while watching it at least at the beginning, otherwise you may loose your appetite. Some scenes are very hard for the stomach. The film has an incredible strength, showing brutal and honest reality, and the whole philosophy, the plot showing life like IT IS in three different versions, not as it ought to be, is really explosive!!! No surprise that it was forbidden in comunist Poland in 1981. Though the film is not political, as some reviewers commented. It shows only what might happen to a young sensitive person trying to climb the career ladder in a communist party as an example. Replace it with any social climber or careerist getting involved in an institution abusing its power to oppress opponents and dissidents. The questions arising after watching this film are very universal: is it all a coincidence, a blind chance how Witek's life rolls or not? The final scene in the film (that with the airplane) is not refered to the last of the three possibilites Witek had (as some reviewer believed), but to all of them. Watch carefully the passangers waiting for the flight: there are all of them of the three stories flying to Paris!
This film supplies us with three alternative endings to the same basic story. A man is catching a train, but how do the different events that precede and follow this everyday occurrence affect the three possible outcomes?
In 1981, this was a fairly unusual plot device, and it is well handled here, by the eminent Polish film-maker, Krzysztof Kieslowski, who also wrote the story.
I will not go into the details of each scenario, though they deal with the anti-communist underground movement of the time, and other religious, and political issues. An intriguing film, from one of Poland's finest directors.
on 27 March 2015
anything by this amazing director is worth watching. this leaves plenty to talk about as to what he is saying about political engagement and a real surprise at the end
I hate having to dip my little fly into the ointment, but unlike other reviewers of this film, I didn't particularly rate "Blind Chance" that highly. This is because for most of the time I had difficulty knowing who the various characters were and what they were supposed to be doing. The storyline is like a socialist realist version of "Sliding Doors", but it is a much more convoluted and ,yes, turgid film than that one. I think that this is so because the three "lives" that the leading character has are so radically different from each other and contain such a wide divergence of people in each one that it makes it difficult to follow and enjoy the film.