Thursday, January 10, 2019

Film Notes: Blind Chance

Before there was Sliding Doors (1998), there was Blind Chance (1981), a more complex, yet strikingly less subtle story of a person whose fate is decided by whether they catch or miss a train. Like Sliding Doors, in which Gwyneth Paltrow's character both misses and catches the train - and the story bifurcates into two possible realities; in Blind Chance the story splits into three as different possible outcomes are explored for Boguslaw Linda's character, Witek.

There are a number of significant differences between the two films however. The first is that while Sliding Doors is a domestic story of love or loss, of success or failure, of happiness or disappointment, Blind Chance's outcomes are all to do with politics. What's more, they are to do with the politics of the emerging resistance to Poland's communist regime; culminating the film being banned when General Jaruzelski declared martial law there in response to the Solidarity movement.

While Paltrow's character ends up with a good guy or a bad guy; Witek either (1) catches the train and falls in with communists who get him to join the party; for whom he works with some commitment; or (2) fails to catch the train and has a fight with a station guard leading to arrest and falling into the company of the freedom movement, or (3) misses the train and returns quietly to medical school, avoids politics, marries a fellow student and had a child.

Its an intriguing film, and a fabulous period-piece about Poland in the Solidarity era; not a documentary by any means, but nevertheless a wonderful historical document. As usual for a Krzysztof Kieślowski film the cinematography is delicate, and perceptive; and the intrigues of human nature poignantly observed. I was (I must admit), a little shocked by the amount of sex and nudity in this film. I am not especially prudish; but by Krzysztof Kieślowski's standards this was very unusual. Several of his films contain sex references and enough violence to gain a (15) certificate; but I was surprised by how explicit he chose to go in this film. Sex, marriage and babies are of course, part of human life, and there was nothing here that was extraneous to the plot(s), but I'm not sure that so many naked shots were required.

The key question which hangs over the film is far more serious than what a handful of Poles looked like in 1981 with their kit off. Witek, the main protagonist, is portrayed as being incredibly malleable, and seems to receive all his life direction from his circumstances. He doesn't seem to have many thoughts or values of his own, to bring into the different scenarios into which he is plunged as his biography splits into three possible realities. His political and religious views are entirely shaped by fate in the unfolding scenes in his life; and the company he finds as a result of the caught/missed train scenario. While no one would be foolish enough to suggest that circumstances play no role in our formation, it is perhaps an exaggeration to suggest that we have no capacity for thought, analysis or moral judgement whatsoever, but are only and exclusively the product of our immediate stimuli. Krzysztof Kieślowski's severest critics have rounded on him for the apparent suggestion that a student would either end up working as a Communist Party apparatchik or an underground samizdat publisher on the flimsy grounds of a conversation on a missed train. But this is unfair on the filmmaker - who is clearly not meaning that we take the meaning of the plot that literalistically, but rather see it as a device for exploring the extent of individual agency. In that it is highly thought provoking and intelligent filmaking.  

I'm still not sure what to make of the surprise ending though. Without spoiling the film for those who haven't seen it, it has the benefit of uniting the three story strands; and uniting the three versions of the character in a jarring equality!

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