This year, the Museum of Fine Arts devotes its entire Summer Cinematheque series to one director: the recently deceased Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski. Marian Luntz, the museum's film and video curator, says the one-man summer program is intended to please film buffs and mainstream movie lovers. "We are determined to initiate new devotees to the ranks of cinephilia," she says conspiratorially.
Certainly, Kieslowski's films serve as antidotes to the overpriced dreck from ego-mad, unimaginative Scientologists that now crowds the plexes. I'm not saying that reasonable people aren't interested in the "what if?" of aliens destroying the Earth; I'm just saying there's more to life, and to movies. Kieslowski offers delicate, thoughtful studies of things we worry about. Frequently his central characters are troubled because they want to be nicer to the people they love, or feel profoundly inadequate because they don't do enough for their loved ones. And when was the last time you saw Schwarzenegger do that?
The MFA will show both Kieslowski's well-known films -- the Three Colors: Red, White and Blue trilogy and The Double Life of Veronique -- along with early classics such as Blind Chance and Camera Buff/ The Amateur. And, as a special treat, the six-weekend series includes The Decalogue, ten hour-long films, each based on one of the Ten Commandments.
Kieslowski shows great command of technique; he's a graduate of the Lód Color, of course, is one of Kieslowski's favorite tools. The Decalogue films, shot for Polish television in the late eighties, often derive meaning from these choices. In Part VI, Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery, a teenage peeper has a cool blue room while the object of his desire lives in a disorderly red apartment. At other times, significant scenes are faded, black and white or washed with a tint; in Part V, Thou Shalt Not Kill, some of the killer's point-of-view scenes are murked with a garbage-green wash.
Kieslowski's technical abilities earn him a place as a great director, and he is deservedly revered for his power to make an audience think. But surprisingly, his films often depict kindness, even affection. Art films are usually dodgy about kindness (and "art film" is a genre, as surely as action adventure is); nonetheless, Kieslowski is not the least bit squeamish about sweetness. In his films, old landladies, neighbor children and stray dogs help or befriend key characters out of simple kindness.
The brutality of certain social systems in not lost on the director, but he's not particularly interested in politics -- his characters generally face communism in Eastern Europe and the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe with the bitter resignation with which most of us face bad weather or snarled traffic.
He much prefers to attack ethical dilemmas on an intimate scale. Whether his subject is a young girl uncertain whether to seek glory as a singer or a man who learns he is not the real father of his daughter, Kieslowski is not so much interested in the drama of circumstances as he is in how our responses define us. His storytelling entertains on even the shallowest level, but his stories plumb the depths of personality. As a filmmaker, his presence is gentle and patient -- here, sit, let's discuss this.
Groupies will be glad to learn that the late director is present in this series not only through his work, but also in a documentary. I'm So-So, released in 1995, shows the old Pole chain-smoking, talking about his films, about love and kindness, and insisting that he was retired from filmmaking. (At the time of his death, despite assertions to the contrary, Kieslowski was working on a trilogy of screenplays, Heaven, Hell and Purgatory.)
I'm So-So, a 90-minute film, is the only feature that the museum will show on two different weekends. That means you ought to get out and see as much as you can. This series is a wonderful and rare opportunity -- and in this case, "rare" is not an overstatement. At press time, in fact, one reel of one film was missing, lost somewhere in shipping, and no replacement reel is available. Pray that the missing reel shows up.
Kieslowski in Memoriam: Experience and Enigma
July 19: Decalogue I: I am the Lord Our God, Decalogue II: Thou Shalt Not Take the Name of the Lord in Vain, Decalogue III: Honor the Sabbath Day
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July 20: Decalogue IV: Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother, Decalogue V: Thou Shalt Not Kill, Decalogue VI: Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery, Decalogue VII: Thou Shalt Not Steal
July 21: Decalogue VIII: Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness, Decalogue IX: Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Wife, Decalogue X: Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Goods
July 26, 27: Blind Chance
July 28: Kryzstof Kieslowski: I'm So-So
August 2, 3: No End, Three Colors: Blue
August 4: Krzysztof Kieslowski: I'm So-So
August 9, 10: Camera Buff/The Amateur, Three Colors: White
August 16, 17: The Double Life of Veronique, Three Colors: Red
At the Museum of Fine Arts' Brown Auditorium, 1001 Bissonnet. For times and prices, call 639-7515 or check http://mfah.org.