From Objectification to Authentic Communication: Kieślowski’s Poetics of Vision

Elizabeth Lee Roby, Indiana University

Polish film director Krzysztof Kieślowski (1941–1996) has enjoyed significant international recognition since the early nineties for his French films, The Double Life of Veronique and the Three Colors trilogy (Blue, White, and Red). Often overlooked, however, by both the general public and scholars alike is the fact that before going to France in the early nineties, the Polish film director enjoyed a prolific career in Poland beginning in 1969 with his first documentary and followed by a string of feature films and television dramas in the seventies and eighties.

When the Polish films are discussed, there is a general tendency among Kieślowski scholars to stress the differences between the Polish and French period, rather than investigate the possibility of any unifying elements. A characteristic comment concerns Kieślowski’s shift from a discussion of socio-political problems in his Polish films to a consideration of more universal, humanistic issues of an existential nature in his French films. Without denying this basic fact, I would like to propose a reading of Kieślowski’s artistic development which suggests Kieślowski’s long-term commitment throughout his career to a posing of existential questions. What is needed for true communication to be established between people? What forces provide obstacles to achieving this necessary communication? To what degree are we free to overcome these obstacles? While the answers to such questions change throughout Kieślowski’s career, his obsession with questions concerning interpersonal relationships remains constant.

Because existential investigations proceed from a discussion of the quality of the dialogic relationship between the individual and the surrounding world, I will focus on a consideration of the changing position of the protagonist in regard to the narrative world as created by Kieślowski throughout his career. In doing so, I will apply to Kieślowski’s art Mixail Baxtin’s conclusions concerning the role of interpersonal dialogue in the establishment of a functional self/other relationship, as discussed in his early article on aesthetics, “Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity.” However, while Baxtin discusses the dialogic relationship on the level of discourse, Kieślowski uses a visually-oriented poetics in drawing similar conclusions. For this reason, my discussion focuses on Kieślowski’s poetics of vision, which I define on three levels, both the literal and the metaphoric: how a given character is seen/shot; how a given character views others; and a state of spiritual sight marked by blindness or clairvoyance.

My analysis of Kieślowski’s poetics of vision will reveal a progression in his existential world view throughout his career from an initial rejection of the possibility for authentic communication to an assertion of the possibility for communion with the other.