A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

No End (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1985)

I probably should have brushed up on the political situation -- the suppression of Solidarity, the imposition of martial law -- in Poland in 1982, the time depicted in Kieslowski's film. It would have made the narrative a little easier to follow, and would have more readily explained the melancholy, despairing tone that pervades the entire film. On the other hand, Kieslowski and his co-screenwriter, Krzysztov Piesiewicz, make things emotionally lucid for at least this uninformed viewer. After all, I don't expect a film to rest entirely on a knowledge of outside context to succeed: All the President's Men (Alan J. Pakula, 1976) is still an acclaimed movie, even though most people who watch it today didn't sit glued to their TV sets, as I did, during the impeachment hearings of Richard Nixon. What makes Kieslowski's film work is placing its politics in the context of personal loss, the death of the lawyer Antek Zyro (Jerzy Radziwilowicz) and its effect on his wife, Urszula (Grazyna Szapolowska), and child (Krzysztof Krzeminski). Having the dead Antek address the camera at the film's beginning is a bold move, one that threatens to turn the film into a sentimental fable about a love that persists after death. But as we see, the relationship of husband and wife was not an ideal one, and the feeling of guilt that she experiences after his death is potently developed. (I'm not sure it entirely justifies the film's ending, however.) The point here is that a premature death like Antek's inevitably results in unfinished business, not only in the life of his family but also in the legal case, that of the incarcerated political prisoner Darek Stach (Artur Barcis) he left undefended. The defense of Stach devolves upon Mieczyslaw Labrador (Aleksander Bardini), the aging lawyer who would not have been Antek's choice for the role. Labrador saves Stach from a longer prison term by engineering a compromise with the judge, a move opposed by Labrador's own assistant (Michal Bajor), who still clings to some of the ideals of the suppressed Solidarity movement. The decision makes no one really happy, because Stach, like everyone else in Poland, isn't really free. The interweaving of the Stach case and Urszula's attempts to resume a normal life despite grief and guilt is sensitively handled, with the great help of Krystyna Rutkowska's editing and Zbigniew Preisner's score.