Kieslowski. I’ll be the first to admit I still have some work to do on Kieslowski’s work in the late 70’s and early to mid-80’s. His strengths here are his brilliant 572-minute top 10 of the 1980’s masterpiece Dekalog and his Blue/White/Red trilogy. These are staggering works. Like many others on this list he died really young (55). I will say that Red has faded on me a little over the years. It used to be a film I had in my top 10 of the 1990’s and I no longer think that to be the case- but I’m overdue for a revisit.
Best film: Dekalog. Individually they are fantastic but together they make for one of the most important and best films of the 1980’s.
total archiveable films: 10
top 100 films: 1
top 500 films: 3 (Dekalog, Blue, Red)
top 100 films of the decade: 4 (Dekalog, Blue, Red, The Double Life of Veronique)
most overrated: The Double Life of Veronique- #360 all-time on TSPDT and I didn’t find it to be any higher than a HR. I’ve only seen it once though which seems really insufficient for any director as deliberate in his approach to formal cinema as Kieslowski is.
most underrated: Red and Blue are two films I’m slightly higher on than the TSPDT consensus. For Red I’m at 198 and “they” have it at #261. For Blue I’m at #165 and TSPDT at #269. However, TSPDT is notorious for being slow to most newer films into the top 100 so #261 and #269 for films that came out in the 90’s are pretty impressive.
gem I want to spotlight: Blue. For years I’ve had Red as the stronger but I think blue is the more vibrant visual film and if forced to now, I’d give it the edge for that reason.
stylistic innovations/traits: Kieslowski is known for his rigorous moral and philosophical discussion but I also love his theme of interconnectedness (certainly influences Magnolia and Iñárritu amongst others) and fate (Coen brothers) His photography is luminously beautiful and his work in believable color production design amongst the greatest in the artform’s history.
- The Double Life of Veronique
- A Short Film about Killing
- No End
- A Short Film About Love
- Blind Chance
- Camera Buff
By year and grades
|1979- Camera Buff|
|1982- Blind Chance|
|1984- No End|
|1988- A Short Film About Killing|
|1988- A Short Film About Love|
|1991- The Double Life of Veronique||HR|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives
Is Kieslowski the greatest master of color? I just saw Blue. Many other directors with phenomenal use of color in a certain film had a lot of their work in black and white or were concentrated on other things slightly more than color design. I’m talking about Hitchcock (Vertigo being perhaps the number one use of color in film), Kurosawa (Ran), Greenaway (C,T,W & L), Kubrick (2001), Antonioni (Red Desert), and such. However, Kieslowski may be focused on the concept more than any other thing. I will have to see some more of his movies to be sure, but do you think he can be called the best utilizer of the concept?
Check out Cries and whispers, Fanny and Alexander of Bergman
@Graham and Aldo, British/’American technicolor of the 40s. Powell and Pressburger, matter of life and death, peeping tom, Hitchcock’s rope and vertigo.
@Graham– I’m maybe a little too close to the Kieslowski study I just completed to answer this. I certainly think his case is as good as any. Aldo is right to bring up Bergman and those two mammoth accomplishments in color in particular, Azman with Powell– particularly The Red Shoes. Godard with Pierrot le Fou and Contempt. Demy, Yimou Zhang, Wes Anderson maybe– Kar-Wai Wong– and your mentions of Ran, Greenaway, Red Desert are key— but I can’t say anyone is more aligned with the use of color than Kieslowski unless I’m forgetting something.
I’m not sure whether the Three Colours trilogy were produced together, but if they were wouldn’t they be considered a single entry like Dekalog, LOTR and Kill Bill?
@Declan- I think you could make that argument. I don’t know if they were shot at the same time (like the other ones mentioned). I don’t think it ultimately matters– but this topic is on mind again (as it was earlier this year when I was doing the Kieslowski study) with Steve McQueen’s Small Axe. One film? Five films? both?
What is the greatest achievement of color usage in each decade?
1930s: There are essentially only two options for the 30s: The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind. As the former is primarily stylistically centered around the technique, it deserves the higher honor. When sound arrived in the late 20s, cinema was too quick to embrace the technology and neglect the possibility of true art. The transition to color was more gradual, and those few directors who chose to utilize the technique did so artfully. The Wizard of Oz represents the epitome of this transformation.
1940s: I have heard tale of the glorious color work by Powell & Pressburger in The Red Shoes and A Matter of Life and Death. Unfortunately, I have only had the time to reach two of their films, Black Narcissus and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Their eerie psychological drama of religious subversion is filmed in superb yet eerie tones.
1950s: Hitchcock’s obsessive, immortalized masterpiece glides into the top spot with no qualms whatsoever. Vertigo brilliantly deploys luscious reds and haunting greens that grow toward the gold standard scene of color usage when green light envelops Judy’s hotel room. The red restaurant, green forest, and bright Golden Gate Bridge loom closely behind.
1960s: Godard’s choice to throw the entirety of Pierrot le Fou into striking primary colors and Antonioni’s precise selections of colored setting items in Red Desert are certainly admirable, but I cannot deny 2001: A Space Odyssey to opportunity to triumph in yet another category. The red demise of HAL stands next to Vertigo’s hotel scene among the greatest uses of a single color in a scene, and the stark, pitch-black monolith looms closely behind. However, Godard’s stylistic explosion may contain the more consistently uniform color brilliance, and thus I regard the 1960s as virtually a tie.
1970s: There is a startling realization to be had about Bergman: he created both one of the greatest works of monochrome cinematography and one of the greatest instances of color design. There may be no other auteurs who completed such a feat. The color film to which I am referring is, of course, Cries and Whispers. Red has a long tradition as one of cinema’s essential hues, and the psychologically tantalizing scarlet rooms of Bergman’s film may be its shining moments.
1980s: I’ve noted on the best films of the 1980s page that this may be the leading decade in terms of cinematic color usage. There are countless options for the top distinction, including The Shining, Blade Runner, Rumble Fish, Ran, Blue Velvet, and Do the Right Thing. I have tremendous difficulty eschewing each of their privileges to gain the honor, but I will ultimately surrender the prize to The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. Greenaway reserves the magnificence of each color for a single section of the expressionistic set in his haunting portrait of desire.
@Graham- amazing work- thanks for sharing- I’ve probably used this link before for a past discussion- I don’t agree with it 100% — but still has too much right about it to ignore http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2015/20-great-movies-that-make-masterful-use-of-color/
1990s: I typically dislike the lousy brand of critics who refuse to choose between the top few selections on a list. However, I must temporarily join them, as I cannot decide between the mood-connected color brilliance of Three Colors: Blue and Raise the Red Lantern. In the former, Zhang employs his uncanny ability to calculate exactly which colors – and how much of them – will have the desired effect on the audience. In the other film, Kieslowski inundates the screen with objects of the titular shade that have never before held so much meaning: a swimming pool, a wrapper, a small mobile…
2000s: His characters may have been in the mood for love, but Wong was in the mood for something else: pictorial beauty, smooth editing, hypnotic montages, dreamy music, and, of course, luminous color design. Was tragic love ever depicted in such orangey, chromatic splendor? Well, maybe, if we bring Days of Heaven into the picture, but that requires a separate conversation. In Wong’s work, each piece of imagery is calm yet tantalizing, from colored dresses to saturated hallways.
Recently, I asked who the coolest directors were. I was reminded of a quote Ebert wrote about Kieslowski on his Three Colors review, “He is one of the filmmakers I would turn to for consolation if I learned I was dying, or to laugh with on finding I would live after all.” Who are some others like this, perhaps the most pleasantly humanistic people? I’m sure Roger would have added Ozu if he were to go a little further. One could probably do worse than to spend their final hours with Terrence Malick or Wes Anderson. Who else is there?
The Double Life of Veronique page has the missing text issue.
@Malith- thank you- should be fixed now
Can you give a rough estimate of what your current Kieslowski ranking would be? I assume your study and increased appreciation for Three Colors: White, The Double Life of Veronique, and A Short Film About Killing would rearrange the top ten a little.
@Graham- the top six are the top six but I did take some notes and will be shifting the order around slightly- but I’ll have to give it some more thought.
I feel pretty good saying ASFAK is his best work (I have not yet seen the Dekalog). That being said, I think I’m going to give until I get to Three Colors: Red and Blue on my list and watch where they land naturally to decide which of those two I think is better.
Were there any Kieslowski films that you watched but didn’t archive during your study? I know he did a few before Camera Buff but they can be hard to come by.
Oh actually I see you did archive The Scar. Outside his documentary work he did two other films but they were distributed by television. Maybe they were just too difficult to track down.
@DeclanG- That’s right. The Scar- I couldn’t track down anything else during that beginning stretch.
1976: The Scar (R)
1979: Camera Buff (R)
1981: Blind Chance (R)
1985: No End (R)
1988: A Short film about Killing (MP)
1988:A Short film about Love (HR)
1989: Dekalog (MP)
1991: The Double Life of Veronique (MP)
1993: Three Colors: Blue (MP)
1994: Three Colors: White (MS)
1994: Three Colors: Red (MP)
Starting to write up my director studies and dedicate proper pages to them. My Jia Zhangke study went up a few days ago and Tati will be up soon too. My favourite one was my Kieslowski study though, I believe we are largely aligned on his films: https://scenebygreen.com/2022/08/03/krzysztof-kieslowski-the-souls-of-strangers/
Looking forward to getting a few more of these up, I would love to do a Bergman study at some point like the one you have undertaken. It is very rewarding approaching directors like this.
@DeclanG- Congrats Declan- very impressive! Digging into the 2021 and https://scenebygreen.com/2020s/ pages right now
A really nice page there, you clearly spent some time putting it together, I enjoyed reading the little biography at the end, I remember writing something like that about Mizoguchi a while back. Veronique as the best Kieslowski work is… interesting, I suppose, I would disagree but I’ve only seen the film one time and I guess I can never know what to expect when watching a film for the second time whether it will be better, worse or realistically the same as when you first saw it, especially after I moved Melancholia to like #68 all-time or something after seeing it again a couple weeks ago considering I wasn’t too impressed with it when I originally saw it last year, there’s no obvious reason to me I couldn’t have the same experience with Veronique. I’m not really sure about putting Three Colors: Red as a better film than Three Colors: Blue, even if I would have agreed with you when I first saw them I know think the first Three Colors film is better, I may prefer watching Red to Blue but I do think Blue is a better film. But it’s still really close so it’s not a distinction I put much value into, as well as I don’t think it’s right to demand explanations for everything.
Even after the study I still find myself having trouble splitting hairs between his masterpieces. I would have them gathered roughly within 80 spaces of each other, give or take. Double Life just struck me as something just that slightly more formally accomplished than the others – a truly mystifying but incredibly provocative film in the parallels built between its two leads, not unlike Dead Ringers in the casting, and perhaps to a lesser extent The Master with so much hanging on the counterpoint between the characters. As for Red, I may give it the edge for now for its formal conceit, but Blue is only slightly tailing it. If there were any shifts in my ranking at some point in the future it would likely be between those two more than any others.
Camera Buff HR
Blind Chance HR
No End R
A Short Film About Killing MS
A Short Film About Love MS
The Double Life of Veronique MP
Drake, Colors Trilogy or Dekalog, what should be my starting point? I’m leaning towards Dekalog, as the premise of that really intrigues, but I plan on watching both series’ so I don’t mind watching Colors first if it’s a better start point
@Matthew- Dekalog if you’re going to do both- for sure.
@Matthew – Just curous, approximately how many movies are you watching each week? Seems like you are devouring cinema.
@James Depends on the week. Honesty, not much. Probably on average 3. Which is really sad as I wish it was 10 a week. I have chronic migraines (which is what it mainly depends on) as well as several other time consuming interests (sports, music), on top of being in university. I have a good amount of free time but I watch movies at a relatively slow pace as I unfortunately have a hard time focusing, because of that I’m not able to maximize the amount of movies I can watch in a given time
What about you?
I’ve run into a problem. Does anyone know where to watch Dekalog (w/o having to buy it physically)?