Blind Chance

English Title: Blind Chance

Original Title: Przypadek

Country of Origin: Poland

Studio: P.P. Film Polski

Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski

Producer(s): Jacek Szelígowski

Screenplay: Krzysztof Kieślowski

Cinematographer: Krzysztof Pakulski

Editor: Elżbieta Kurkowska

Runtime: 114 minutes

Genre: Drama

Language: Polish

Starring/Cast: Bogusław Linda, Tadeusz Łomnicki, Zbigniew Zapasiewicz, Bogusława Pawelec, Marzena Trybała, Monika Gozdzik

Year: 1981

Volume: East European

Synopsis:

Poland, early 1980s: Witek decides to leave medical school. He goes to the train station, buys a ticket to Warsaw and catches the train. Inside he meets an old communist and becomes a Party apparatchik. After some disillusionment, Witek decides to run away. Once more he goes to the station, rushes for his train but this time is stopped by police and misses it. He is sentenced to community work where he meets a member of a dissident organisation. He becomes involved in the organisation but soon fate takes an unexpected turn. Witek again rushes for his train at the station but again misses it. He meets his fellow medical student and marries her, going on to lead a middle-class life with his wife and a child whislt refusing to become involved in either of the previous political choices – until something unexpected takes place.


Critique:
The late 1970s saw a number of films of ‘Cinema of Moral Anxiety’ in Poland. Works such as Krzysztof Zanussi’s Barwy Ochronne/Camouflage (1977), Agnieszka Holland‘s Kobieta Samotna/A Woman Alone (1981), or Kieślowski’s own Amator/Camera Buff (1979) explored (often through an allegorical microcosm) the moral decay of the Polish political system and the price ordinary citizens have to pay. The necessity for Witek, the protagonist of Przypadek/Blind Chance, to make a choice between involvement or non-involvement in politics certainly inscribes itself well into this paradigm. Equally, the fact that the film was immediately shelved after its release due to the introduction of Martial Law in December 1981 helped built its subsuquent status of a cult political film.

 

However, Blind Chance’s innovative, tripartite narrative of ‘what if...’, and its preoccupation with metaphysical questions of  chance, destiny and choice, go beyond its immediate political resonance, both for Kieślowski’s own future thematic preoccupations and the film‘s impact on other (mostly western) directors. Several critics have noted that Blind Chance can be regarded as a transitional film in director’s career, marking the movement from the more realistic (and political) concerns of his earlier work to the philosophical and/or metaphysical resonances of his later pictures. Kieślowski’s final films – the television series Dekalog/The Decalogue (1989–1990), still made in Poland, and  La Double Vie de Véronique/The Double Life of Veronique (1991) and Trois Couleurs/The Three Colours Trilogy (1993 – 1994) made in France – all contain those metaphysical elements of alternative lives, intervowen destinies and ‘roads not taken’; of interconnectedness and parallel narratives. In this respect Blind Chance directly prefigures the director’s own later films, which together went on to infuence Tom Tykwer’s postmodern Lola Rennt/Lola Runs (1998) (Tykwer openly acknowledges this fact), Peter Howitt’s conventional romanctic drama Sliding Doors (1998), and recently a number of films differently dubbed ensemble films, fractal films, network narratives or hyperlink cinema, e.g. Code Inconnu/Code Unknown (Michael Haneke, 2000), Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2006) or Paris (Cédric Klapisch, 2008).

 

Blind Chance begins with Witek screaming ‘No’ just before the plane carrying him to Paris explodes in mid-air. The three alternative lines of his life follow as if Witek had his entire life projected in front of his eyes just before his death. Each story is introduced by the element of chance in his catching the train (or not), a notion that is furter underscored by the image of a rolling coin and the recurring, haunting music of Wojciech Kilar that accompanies it each time Witek is running at the station. Even though Witek’s biography is intricately linked with the Polish political situation, and the fact that in all three stories he has to make political choices, the formal device of beginning the film universalizes his experience and distances it from politics. Rather, what Kieślowski is trying to say, as he puts it himself, is that ‘we don’t ever really know where our fate lies’ (Stok 1993: 113). If indeed Kieślowski does ask a question of a political dimension, it is not  how politics affects our lives but, instead, how deterministic is the time and place of our birth (which of course is beyond one’s choice or control). In all three stories, Witek’s attempts at a decent life are frustrated by politics, and the indication that perhaps it could be different resides in his frustrated desire in each story to board the plane to France. It is this exploration of differences in life trajectories depending on geo-political location that fractal narrative films share with Blind Chance. Why then does the third story end in death? ‘Beacuse one way or another, that’s going to be our fate,’ says Kieślowski (Stok 1993: 113). But what if the plane did not explode and Witek did arrive in Paris? And this is where the film comes back to politics as this is exactly the choice which did not exist under communism. Blind Chance is a rich film which defies easy interpretation because, like all Kieślowskis’s films, it asks questions of an utmost importance that flout easy answers.

 

References

Stok, Danusia (ed.) (1993), Kieślowski on Kieślowski, London: Faber & Faber.

Author of this review: Joanna Rydzewska