Filmed in 1981, but held back until 1987, Polish writer-director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s once censored film has been largely restored on Criterion DVD, now making it a fitting partner to Kieslowski’s best, including A SHORT FILM ABOUT LOVE/’88 and BLUE/’93. It hardly starts (or ends) well, opening on a primal scream/closing with a bang when we need a whimper. But if the cliché bookends are mistakes (and they are, they are!), everything in-between rings true, charting a fascinating side-angle view of the premature/temporary breakdown in Poland’s Communist regime just as the Solidarity Movement was aborning. The film charts three possible storylines for charismatic med student Boguslaw Linda; three ‘what-if’ paths for a young man first seen barely catching the train to Warsaw where he’ll work on changing society from the inside, a loyal government over-achiever. It all comes to nought. Then, a replay where he just misses the train only to crash & burn as a radical working to change society by stealth from the secret underground. It all comes to nought. Finally, after again missing the train, bumping into the girl of his dreams and finding a happiness that makes him refuse to work either for or against change. Instead, tend to your garden and make it grow. And it still all comes to nought. Damned if you do; damned if you don’t; damned if you don’t care, says K. In theory, the film should have lost its punch once the debate & emotion of early Solidarity days passed. But unlike the work of fellow Pole Andrzej Wajda, Kieslowski was the real deal as filmmaker; and even with a few dates & details unclear to non-Poles, the film is as suggestive and moving as it ever was. And exceptionally well personified in the tellingly open gaze of Boguslaw Linda’s expressive eyes. If only we could lop off those two awful bookend shots!
DOUBLE-BILL: Other films stole K’s idea of a future determined by whether you made or missed a train. SLIDING DOORS/’98 (not seen here) is probably the best known.