Kieslowski’s patterns

12/27/11

Watching Criterion Red supplements, Kieslowski speaking of the scene where the dog Rita goes into the church – echoing an earlier scene of Valentin in the same place.  And later the dog runs to the judge’s house, comes out, stands between Valentin and the  judge – the dog as connector.  Valentin at the gate, a threshold, and the judge comes through the door, another threshold.

Kieslowski talks about all the repetitions in the film, the way the film works on the audience, the viewer – almost subliminal – not just analytical, like a puzzle with its pleasure of filling in the pieces,  although this surely comes into play and is part of the aesthetic pleasure  — but something deeper in the pattern, linked to ritual, repetition’s power – chant.  Circling back.  Down. Deepening something – a groove almost literally in the brain, as we are coming to learn about neurological patterns.  The way we get into grooves, habits, both healthy and unhealthy – and the film with its own repetitions invites us into its patterning, its cycle, its beauty – which is circular and yet progressive, moving towards a climax, completion, which is a fullness from which another round/creation can commence – genesis again. 

As it is at the conclusion of Red with the tragedy of the ferry and its 6 + 1 survivors, an apocalypse, a kind of flood which is simultaneously a new beginning with these 3 sets of partners surviving [we almost are told] because of something healed and deepened in their own lives and their own relationships.  They survive – randomly and yet not.  Irrational, as Kieslowski says at the end of supplement, and yet completely controlled.

The aesthetics of repetition.  The swerve:  Lucretius.  Simple repetition is death.  There is in nature no such thing as absolute repetition:  it is always theme and variation, as in a fugue, as in a dance.  There is always the swerve.  Beauty, like life, is this combination of repetition and swerve. 

In Kieslowski there is an intellectual pleasure in the recognition of repetition, and a pleasure in ‘figuring something out’ as in a mystery – an obvious example being the scene with the old woman attempting to place a bottle in the recycling container in each film – but the greatness of the films lies in all the moments where a mystery remains – how each moment holds a weight, a presence of its own, and yet each moment also connects to so many other similar moments.  Threads woven through the three films and beyond into other films of his and other films throughout cinematic history – the way Karol Karol’s character (and how’s that for repetition?) in White echoes Krystof Kieslowski himself but also quite consciously recalls Chaplin, and thus all that Chaplin represents is made present again with this added dimension from the new film –and the scene of Rita going into the church not only echoes the scene of Valentin on the steps drinking water [and that moment holds great if simple weight] but also the scene of Karol Karol at the  beginning of White going up the steps of the court:  similar steps, similar structures, inviting a comparison between law and religion, as well as a comparison between Karol’s experience with the law and Valentin’s in the church.

Of course we can play this game of recognition, and it’s a good game for those of us who enjoy such things.  But again, what matters to me in these films is only partly this very intentional control and design on Kieslowski’s part [and it’s clear from comments from his colleagues that he was a perfectionist on the set).  Somehow his obsessive desire for order also allows for, and in some ways helps to create, the possibility of disorder, of chance,  something unexpected to blow in.  In Red  the spilled tea as the wind whips open the window and the glass tumbles onto the table – things falling, things breaking, things ending.  A scene that was planned out I’m sure but in the doing of it there is also a randomness to this  moment, this glass, this amount of liquid, this light, and this crew filming it.  Sometimes there’s magic. 

It’s the way that those involved in making Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks  back in 1969 talk about it, like there was this inevitability to the random alignment of producer and musicians.  “A cloud came along,” Brooks Arthur, the recording engineer said, “and it was called the Van Morrison sessions.  We all hopped upon tht cloud, and the cloud took us away for a while, we we made this album, and we landed when it was done.”  (Quoted in Greil Marcus, When That Rough God Goes Riding  53).

 Or like the scene where the workers are taking down the massive advertisement with the image of Valentin upon it, the image echoed at the end of the film in the freeze framed shot of Valentin stepping of f the boat, her hair wet, her face in shock – these moments are one and yet separate, the first a framed, artificially created moment for the sake of selling a trivial product [like the movie itself in one sense] and the second a reminder that for all of our playing such moments are real, that death does come, ferries sink, weather changes unexpectedly (this one the judge didn’t call). 

That glass tumbling over, the liquid spilling.  It’s the weight of reality.