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Cinema of Conflict: Four Films by Krzyst - Cinema of Conflict(Blu Ray Boxset) [Arrow Academy - 2020]

Krzysztof Kieúlowski, stands as one of the most respected & revered names in Polish cinema, with his key works been the early 1990ís Three Colours trilogy, & late 80ís ten TV film series Dekalo. This recent four Blu Ray boxset focuses in on the director's early films from the late 1970ís-to the mid-1980s, and all of these focus in on the realities of everyday life under communism in Poland during this period- they move between moody-to-grim social realism and political/ government focused drama with arthouse traits & arty imagery. Itís fair to say that all of the films featured here are more than a little downbeat & troubling, but none the lesser worthy & powerful works. This set appears on Arrow Academy- and as with any of the Arrow sub-labels, we get a good selection of extras & nice new scans of each film.

First, up in the set we have 1976ís The Scar( aka Blizna)- which was Kieslowski first feature film after doing eleven documentaries & short docs- subject wise going from the modernization, both physically and culturally of the Polish city of Lodz- 1969ís From the City of Lodz, onto the bureaucratic & strict control of a Polish factory under communists control 1971ís Factory. Through to mocking state-run mines with faux public information film 1972 Podstawy BHP w kopalni miedzi, and former state workers dying in a tubercular sanatorium 1974 Przeswietlenie. The Scar certainly feels very documentary-like in its filming & presentation- yet there is a keen line of dramatic flow & ebb running through itís middle- so it almost feels like a crossbreed of social conscious doc and bleak drama, with touches of jet black humor. The film's plot focuses on a chemical factory been built on the outskirts of a Polish town- members of the Communist party dishonestly manipulate the public & others to get the factory-built, ripping down an ancient forest & throwing people from their homes. To try & manage both the building of the factory & the press reporting of the building the party bring in Stefan Bednarz(Franciszek Pieczka)- a mild-mannered, honest, and moral man, who tries to both do his job but also canít help but get involved with the townspeople who donít want the build to be done. The film is set largely in smoky offices, public meetings, and of course, the building site its self- for the most part the film has no formal soundtrack, only a few of the more moody & arty scenes feature a blend of brooding drone matter & textured noise making. The film runs fairly short by art-house standards at one hour & forty-five minutes- with the acting & presentation of the actors done in very real warts & all fashion. All in all, I found it a decidedly glum, grey & moody-yet compelling social drama which nicely studies the way both individuals & the public at large can be manipulated, and the hopes for change that more often than not are crushed by bureaucracy
On the extras side on this disc, we get an around thirty-minute introduction/ break down of the film by Polish film expert Micha Oleszczyk- here he talks about Kieslowski switch from documentary maker to fictional filmmaker, the production company that put out the film, the films more arty & eerier moments, and his general feel about the film in  Kieslowski wider filmography & how it hints/ relates to later films he made. Next, we get Oleszczyk again going through the polish film archive uncovering paperwork relating to the film- this runs around five minutes.


Moving onto disc number two, and we have Kieslowskiís second feature-length film Camrea Buff(Amator)- this appeared in 1979, and showed Kieslowski growing as a filmmaker added in traces of rye-to-dark-comedy &
later more intimately dramatic scenes. The film focus on 30 something Filip Mosz(Jerzy Stuhr) a mustached plant worker, whose wife Irka (Malgorzata Zabkowska) is pregnant with their first child- Flip decides to spend two weeks of his wages on an eight-millimeter movie to capture their child & lives. Fairly soon his work becomes aware that he has a camera & ask him to film 25th-anniversary celebration of the company- while doing this he starts knocking against bureaucratic rules & control- though he still pushes forward with his new passion literally film everything he can, along the way his relationship with his wife drifts, and he starts to cause more waves with the companies bosses. Once again Camera Buff is a largely grey & stark looking film- as it takes part either in the couples crammed apartment in one of the cites grey tower blocks, the featureless white & mauve corridors of the plant, and the brown grass & dust of the cities sidewalks. The film focuses on dreams, ambitions, and dashed hope- the touches of humor are sly & relateable in the first half of the film, then the more dramatic & emotionally fraught elements slowly but sure surface in the second half. The film runs for seven minutes shy of the two-hour mark, and at times it does drag a little- Camera Buff feels much more like a straight social drama, with only a fleeting shot of a bird of prey killing a chicken been the only more art house trace remaining from The Scar's more moody moments. I certainly appreciate the development & growth of Kieslowski film craft, and Filip makes for a relatable figure- I just felt it didnít quite grab me in the same way The Scar did.
On the extras side, we get a commentary track from film critic/ writer Annette Insdorf, who wrote a book about Kieslowski films, met him in 1980, and also translated his film to English. Itís a decidedly sparse-if-informative track with Insdorf popping up ever so often to talk about a certain scene & itís meaning, Kieslowski wider filmopgopgy & how this film fits in, and the films cast. Next Micha Oleszczyk returns for a just over a half-an-hour discussion about the film- talking about the films lead Stuhr & how the likable character he plays is rather different than his other roles. Moving onto talk about why he feels this stands as the most accessible of the four films here, the films meaning, and more. We get another eight minute trip to the film archive to uncover paperwork relating to the film's production. And then we have a 1980 short film by Kieslowski called Talking Heads- and this fifteen-minute track does what itís suggested, we get a long series of people been ask questions- they start from toddlers, moving into young adults, the middle age & the very elderly- in the corner of the screen is each person date of birth-  this is a rewarding short, as the answers move from amusing, businesses like, hopeful, and philosophical.


Onto disc three & we have Blind Chance- this was completed in 1981 but suppressed by Polish authorities, not released until 1987 in a censored form. The film follows Witek Dlugosz(Boguslaw Linda) - a young man whose running to catch a train, and the different outcomes from whether or not he makes said train. The film begins with fairly rapid & genetic cutting stopping at different points in Witeks life- moving from childhood, teen, to young man. When it settles into a more even-to-slower pace we see the outcomes of different versions of reality- in one heís an up-tight & opinionated medical student, in another heís connected with an underground anti-government publication, and in another, heís working for the communist party.  Technically the films a huge step forward from Kieúlowski early film, with the wonderful camera work that moves from slowly angle shifting & lightly darting, onto moody perspective shots, though manic & arty shooting.  As with the other films in the set, the focus is very much on the state & the party- but you get a lot more personal insight to the main character, also unlike the other films we have moments of sexual activity, brief nudity, and a few more gory snippets. Blind Chance balances nicely between bleak social realism & art-house long shots- it takes on first watch a little time to ground oneself in the films flow, but do stick in there as itís an extremely worthy & masterful film.
On this disc we get a lot of great content- first we have a commentary track from film critic & Polish film expert Michael Brooke- he starts off making sense of the different points we stop off in Witek life at the beginning of the film, moving on to talking about the three-way plot outcome, various actors bios, real-life figures film parts where based on, the way Poland was politically when the film was made, the censored elements, and much more- itís a great track, that managers to balance facts, opinion, and history both of Poland & its cinema. Next, we have Moral and Martial Anxieties- a forty-plus minute visual essay from Brooke covering Polish film renaissance at the turn of the 1980s. We have a just over a thirty-minute overview of the film from Micha Oleszczyk- where he goes from mourning the delayed release of the film & the impact it could have had if it had been released when it was made. Moving onto talk about the film's themes, itís blend of camera work and the film in general. Going onto discuss lead mans Boguslaw Linda career which went from films like this in the 1980s, moving onto in the í90s to become a more gruff macho action hero- again this is a most worthy & interesting extra. We get Oleszczyk returning to the archive for a seven-minute look at paperwork relating to the film. We get Workshop Exercises a twelve-minute 1987  from Marcel Lonzinski one of the crew, and a good selection of archive interviews- all told a nicely packed disc.


Lastly, on the fourth disc of the set we have 1985 No End- which fits the rather stark title, and all the films in the boxset this is most difficult & largely glum film. It's based in 1982 warsaw under martial law, and it focuses on blond middle-age women Ulla, a translator, who suddenly loses her lawyer husband, Antek. She is wrecked by her grief & despair, and  the silent spirit of her husband continues to appear & manipulation things around her. She seeks solace her self in work, looking after her son,  having in sex with strangers, and in hypnosis. Running aside this main plot we have the second story of  Darek, a jailed Solidarity strike organizer whose case her husband was working on  before he died Ė Ulla recommended elderly lawyer Labrador as a replacement- he's an tired, aging attorney, who tries to free Darek by various political manipulations and psychological ploys.
The films one hour & forty-seven minutes runtime unfolds at a decidedly slow & grim manner- there seems little or no hope in the film's landscape. At moments it hints at horror like tropes with the eerier wordless & dead Antek watching his wife & others,  but the more predominant social realism  & political edged elements of the film pulls it away from being a full out horror/ supernatural. Itís a very well acted & composed film, with some very effectively moody moments at play- the thing is that it all feels so despairing & glum, as it slowly but surely heads towards its starkly dreamy ending.
Extras wise Micha Oleszczyk to discuss the film for just over twenty minutes- he begins by talking about how this was the first film that  Kieslowski worked with one of his key collaborator's- judge & barrister turned screenwriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz. He moves onto discuss the film's solemn tone, itís soundtrack, and that the film is very much a love or hate affair- again another worthy featurette. Oleszczyk returns for his last trip to the archive, a seven-minute visual essay Adrian Martin and Cristina Alvarez Lopez, and The Office a 1995 black & white doc from Kieslowski .


If you enjoy often bleak, grey yet thought-provoking at times arty cinema you have to do your self a favor and pick-up this boxset. Once again another great Arrow release, full of most interesting & informative extras and good new prints of the four films.

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Roger Batty
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