"Someday, perhaps, a film will be made based on my writings. I hope that, in some devious way, I have laid a trap for myself so that I can stay in it forever."
- Krsysztof Kieslowski
When I woke up the first thing I saw was a big crane swinging its arm around outside my window. My view is far from idyllic, rooftops, construction sites, men in bright orange vests wearing yellow helmets, antennaes with small pigeons seated on them. I don't mind, I like being on the edge of things, on the border between different worlds. When I walk outside the hotel where I am staying it is only a 2 minute walk to the beautiful main city square.
Wroclaw, Cultural Capital of Europe. I should go to museums and galleries today, I should go to all the places where they have programmed cutting edge, experimental, thought provoking art but when I leave the hotel my feet bring me to the Vinyl Cafe again, old furniture, familiar music, Audrey Hepburn looking over me while I drink my cappucino and read Georges Perec's "Un homme qui dort" which starts with a quote by Franz Kafka:
"Il n'est pas nécessaire que tu sortes de ta maison. Reste à ta table et écoute. N'écoute même pas, attends seulement. N'attends même pas, sois absolument silencieux et seul. Le monde viendra s'offrir à toi pour que tu le démasques, il ne peut faire autrement, extasié, il se tordra devant toi."
(Méditations sur le péché, la souffrance, l'espoir et le vrai chemin)
"You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Don't even wait, be completely silent and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
I read it while John Coltrane is playing and outside a shabby looking man is hurrying past, carrying a bouquet of red roses, a heart shaped box with chocolates and the biggest smile I've seen today. A young man speaks to me in Polish and without having any knowledge of the language apart from the few basics you teach yourself straight away in a new country I know what he means and I answer "tak", "yes", of course I can keep an eye on his things for a few minutes.
What I first think is a woman singing "Always look for the silver lining" I discover after some closer listening to be Chet Baker in his younger years, playing the trumpet beautifully as well. My second cappucino is perfectly warm, the man serving it tells me that they normally never heat up the milk to make it as authentic as possible since in Italy, where it is always warm, they drink it with cold milk. He might be right, I am not Italian but I am not so sure.
I move to my other book, the one I bought ages ago and never read, like many books I collected, waiting for the right moment. That moment is now, being in Wroclaw to travel on to Sokolowsko, a small spa town on the Polish-Czech border where Krzystztof Kieslowski spent part of his childhood and used to look at movies through a hole in the roof of the cinema because he didn't have money for a ticket. The cinema is still there as are the remains of the old sanatorium in which his father was treated for tuberculosis, the first TB sanatorium in the world. These days it is owned by an art organisation and in summer three festivals take place in this tiny village of which the Kieslowski Film Festival is the last one after the Contexts ephemeral art festival and the Sanatorium of Sound experimental music festival. I have always been a big fan of Kieslowski and I was amazed when last year by coincidence I found myself in the village where he grew up, where the Kieslowski archive is housed and where the cinema he spent hours sitting on the roof peeping through a hole, forming images in his mind based on the bits and pieces he saw and heard (an experience that undoubtedly had a big influence on how he filmed his documentaries and movies), is still in use.
Krzysztof Kieslowski died on March 13, 1996, at the age of fifty-four. Not long before, after having made Red, he had announced his retirement from moviemaking. In her book "Double lives, second chances. The cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski", Annette Insdorf writes "And then we speculated - as do his movies - about the order of events. Did he stop making films because he knew he would die soon? Or did he believe that he had already said all he had to say and therefore felt less motivated to live? Was it by chance or destiny that he died in that hospital; or - given his refusal to go to more sophisticated medical institutions - did free will play the determining part in this drama? For a man who made the documentary Hospital twenty years earlier - in which Polish doctors find that instruments, electricity, and much - needed sleep are in ludicrously short supply - Warsaw was hardly the most promising place for surgery." (He refused offers from Paris and New York as well as two specialized open-heart-surgery centers in Poland - insisting that he was an ordinary Pole with confidence in his doctors. He never woke up after his operation in a Warsaw hospital).
He became a filmmaker by chance. Because his family was poor, he needed a school that would provide a scholarship as well as lodging. "By chance, a relative directed a school for theater technicians in Warsaw," he explained during the 1994 New York Film Festival. "If this distant uncle had been in charge of a bank, I'd be a banker now." His intention was to become a theater director but because advanced studies were required, Kieslowski applied to film school as an intermediate step. The prestigious Lodz Film School rejected him twice and he only fiercely attempted to get in a third time because they had rejected him.
I watched his Decalogue again before I came here, last year I read the script while sitting on the Kieslowski Square in Sokolowsko where he walked around himself and must have looked at the people passing by in the same way I did.
Pawel: What remains after someone dies?
Krzysztof: What a man has done.
- Decalogue, 1