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by Roy Anker
Out of the Darkness
Few expected it, and news of it came with a deep-down jolt, like the surprise death of a friend who'd shown you what good there was in living. Even celebrities die, of course, and while we miss Stewart, Hepburn, and Peck—artists who made figments laugh, sweat, and sorrow, and we along with them—and see in their passing a token of our own, we accept the order of things and move on. The death of Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski in March, 1996, at the age of 54, was more like losing that dear friend.
Yes, when he died Kieslowski was a world-class director at the top of his game—perhaps even, in the not eccentric judgment of Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan, "the most accomplished filmmaker in the world." But lots of folks dazzle with a camera. What distinguished Kieslowski above all—what made his sudden absence deeply felt—was the stories he chose to tell and the way in which he told them. The achievement came in the eerie, enveloping, worlds he conjured. And "conjure" is not too strong a word. Their power seemed magical, unfolding with the logic of dreams. Like an illusionist pulling wonders from a hat, a trunk, a handkerchief, Kieslowski worked his magic with ordinary stuff, plumbing the everyday-always human wrestle with the possibilities of fate, freedom, faith, love, and especially God.
Kieslowski was already dead and gone before he became well-known in the United States. Only his last four films, done feverishly between 1990 and 1994, were released in the United States, and then only in artsy places. And, not least for dumb bureaucratic reasons, they did not have an easy time of it. Until Three Colors: Red (1994), his last picture, the Academy Awards excluded his work because of their odd national origin (Polish but filmed in France and Switzerland). What many critics regard as Kieslowski's masterwork, The Decalogue (1988), a Polish television series on the Ten Commandments, was finally commercially released here just last year. Prior to that one had to ...