Kieslowski – Art and Messages – Section 2. Kieslowski’s Techniques and Collaborations

I believe that to understand Kieslowski one must remember that his skills and technique were developed in an era of censorship in Poland. He talks about this himself in the supplemental material for the Criterion Collection edition of The Double Life of Veronique.

He reminds us that he and his contemporary directors in Poland had to learn to say things to the audience that the censors wouldn’t cut. That meant that they could not say things directly, but had to convey their ideas through indirect means. Some of these indirect means result in films that:
o Have relatively little dialog – this is especially evident in Veronique; Irene Jacob has remarkably few speaking lines;
o Develop without strong linear plot lines;
o Use lighting, cinematography and especially music to convey meaning – the use of music in Blue is especially striking and important.

The net effect of the environment of censorship in which Kieslowski developed his techniques is that his films demand “participation of the viewers, and the one who expects passive entertainment has found the wrong film to watch.”(1)

In Kieslowski Dialogue(2), he talks about how unsure of himself he felt while directing and he emphasizes that, because of this lack of confidence, he felt he needed the help of others involved in making the film. Thus he encouraged full participation of his actors, cinematographers, lighting directors, and music composers to help him create the film. In Kieslowski Dialogue(2) we get to watch as numerous scenes in Veronique were being filmed. I was struck by how many times after a particular shot was finished, Kieslowski asked the assembled team “was that OK?” or “how was that?” And we see those involved in the filming in active discussions clearly feeling very free to make suggestions. Kieslowski generally kept the job of editing to himself; he believed that his films came together during this process.

Three of his collaborators demand special mention.

Perhaps the best known of Kieslowski’s collaborators was composer Zbigniew Preisner. Preisner composed the music for many of Kieslowski’s films including Veronique, the Three Colors trilogy, and The Decalogue.(3)

For Kieslowski and Preisner music was not added onto a film after its completion but was as much an integral part of the creative process as the dialog or cinematography. For example, Preisner composed the music for The Double Life of Veronique before the screenplay was written allowing it to be incorporated at a fundamental level in the film. Often the music is essentially part of the plot, replacing dialog as a way to tell the story. When Alexandre (the puppeteer) first calls Veronique in the middle of the night he plays a tape of Weronika’s singing at the time she collapses in the concert. The camera focuses on Veronique’s face transfixed by what she hears, and the shot is a very dramatic illustration of the connection between the two. With the picture and the music we are hearing and seeing the thoughts in Veronique’s mind. No dialog is necessary; no dialog could convey this as well. The connection between Weronika and Veronique, and Alexandre’s role as an intermediary, have been established; the viewer need not be concerned with practical questions such as how Alexandre came by the tape, why he decides to play it to Veronique, or why she reacts so strongly.

The point Kieslowski and Preisner want to establish is the strength of the emotional contact and this is more effectively conveyed through the medium of the music than with dialog during in the development of the a linear plot. Kieslowski talked about using these indirect methods to convey emotions:

“The realm of superstitions, fortunetelling, presentiments, intuition, dreams, all this is the inner life of a human being, and all this is the hardest thing to film…(this realm) deals with things you can’t name. If you do, they seem trivial and stupid.”(4)

In Veronique and Three Colors Preisner’s music is attributed to a fictionalized classical composer Van den Budenmayer, who “lived” in Holland over two centuries ago.

A second notable collaborator with Kieslowski was the cinematographer Slawomir Idziak. Idziak worked with Kieslowski not only on The Double Life of Veronique but also Blue and the episode of The Decalogue that was expanded to A Short Film about Killing.(5)
Idziak’s and Kieslowski’s films are characterized by the use of shots where we see the characters reflected in mirrors and windows. In Veronique in particular, these convey to me that the characters are anything but uni-dimensional. They not only have the face that they show to the world, but in addition they have inner emotions and reactions to relationships. Again, consider how difficult it would be to convey this multi-dimensionality using only dialog and linear plot development. If Kieslowski were to talk directly about these emotions he would be belittling them.

Idziak also uses different camera angles to convey depth of meaning to the ideas in the film. The movie opens with a shot of Weronika seeing the world upside down. When a man exposes himself to Weronika he is seen from a diagonal perspective. By contrast when Veronique sees her father the camera always is vertical (indicating a strong, upright relationship?)(6)

The other particularly distinctive stylistic feature of the Idziak/Kieslowski collaboration was the use of filters and colors to create impressionistic atmospheres. The Double Life of Veronique was filmed using a golden yellow filter which served to make the world in which these two women lived seem warm and beautiful.(6) Two examples are when Weronika bounces her plastic ball in hallway and is showered with gold colored dust. She turns her face upwards to receive this golden shower as if it were some kind of blessing. Recall also the scene when Veronique wakes in her room to find a mysterious golden light shining on her and bouncing around the room. Initially, we are offered a concrete explanation for this light as the reflection off the mirror held by a playful adolescent neighbor, but after he closes his window the light returns, now with no physical explanation. It finally settles on the string binding together Veronique’s sheet music – an unmistakable allusion to Weronika again created without words or active plot action.

The other collaborator who must be mentioned is Krzysztof Piesiewicz. Piesiewicz co- wrote the screenplays with Kieslowski including The Decalogue, The Double Life of Veronique and the Three Colors trilogy. Their collaboration started earlier when Kieslowski was still making documentaries and that experience had some effect in causing Kieslowski to start filming fictional work.(7) Certainly Piesiewicz’s contributions to Kieslowski’s international films were very significant. He is listed first at in the credits for the screenplay in all thee of the trilogy movies, and Kieslowski credits him with coming up with the idea for The Decalogue(2). (Kieslowski’s name is first in the credits for The Double Life of Veronique). However it is also clear that during filming Kieslowski felt free to adapt the screenplay spontaneously in reaction to how the filming was going using input from those who were making the film with him. (This is very clear in the special features on the Criterion Edition of Veronique that show the film being made.)

The Double Life of Veronique was nominated for and won many awards.(8)

o Irene Jacob Won Best Actress Cannes 1991
o Nominated Golden Palm – Cannes 1991
o Won – FIPRESCI Prize and Prize of the Ecumenical Jury – Cannes 1991
o Nominated Golden Globe – Best Foreign Language film 1992
o Won – best foreign language film – National Society of Film Critics 1992
o Won – best music – Zbigniew Preisner – Los Angeles Film Critics 1991

To return to the Contents of “Kieslowski – Art and Messages” click on the link below

(1)Soreide, Hakon, 2002. From The Internet Movie Database,, accessed 2 February 2008.

(2)Kieslowski Dialog (1991), a film interview with Kieslowski that includes shots of the filming of The Double Life of Veronique. Criterion Collection: The Double Life of Veronique. Disc two – The Supplements released 2006.
(3)The Internet Movie Database. Zbigniew Preisner. accessed 6 March 2008.
(4)Romney, Jonathon. (2006) Through the Looking Glass. Chapter in “The Double Life of Veronique; A Film by Krzysztof Kieslowski.” A booklet included in the Criterion Edition DVD set.
(5)The Internet Movie Database. Slawomir Idziak, accessed 6 March, 2008.
(6)Insdorf, Annette (1999). “Double Lives, Second Chances. The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski.” Hyperion, New York. pp. 135-6.
(7)The Internet Movie Database. Krzysztof Piesiewicz. accessed 6 March 2008.
(8)The Internet Movie Database. “The Double Life of Veronique”. accessed 6 February 2008.

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