Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski
Writer: Krzysztof Kieślowski
Cinematographer: Krzysztof Pakulski
Producer: Jacek Szelígowski
by Jon Cvack
Recently on a trip up to Donner Lake, we got into one of our many traditional debates about the Soviet Union and the rise of communism. I’m fascinated with the rise of totalitarian regimes - Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini and how these men rose by convincing others to give them power, which they used to subvert democracy. Reading Richard J. Evans’ The Coming of the Third Reich (2005) or Hanna Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (1973) function as both history and horror story; showing how awful the world could become when the right conditions create paths for authoritarian leaders.
When it comes to the divide of capitalism and socialism, I’m more on the economic democracy side. I believe workers should have more rights and that the most wealthy nation on Earth - like any good private company - could provide some amazing benefits to its people. Public health care, accessible education, family leave, and a safety net that does all it can to prevent anyone from living on the streets, going hungry, or bankrupt due to medical costs.
These are open ideas, and as the Democratic party has a debate on its platform, I’m seeing more and more partisans coming out of the woodwork. Neo-liberals who shun Biden as too old school and Warren and Sanders as demagogues. I see radical Bernie supporters now disparaging Warren with Clinton-esque critiques, when they could just support both as being far more in accord to their philosophy than the other side. Then there’s the pragmatic Biden supporters who see anything beyond a centrist approach as endangering their chances of pulling in enough Republican votes. It is a battle between returning to the status quo, pushing new ideas, or pushing far more significant ones. I find the partisanship frightening; that even when against Donald Trump, people feel the need to denigrate each other over who they like, when instead they could all just talk about actual ideas with open minds, vote for who they want, and hope the goal lines align with their individual philosophies.
When the Bolsheviks overthrew the Soviet Monarchy during the October Revolution, they paved the way for a true communist state that would enact Marx’s vision. What they failed to see was how an immoral government - being in control of the means of production - could exploit the workers far worse than any free market system. It’s an example of the dangers of partisanship - in which all it took for one sect to triumph over the others was a willingness to kill the opponents; who were allies, at first, and then became divided over how far to go. Those willing to take action triumphed, almost immediately corrupting the very government they ceased. Thus it’s not necessarily the ideas that necessarily failed, so much as the corrupt individuals who covet power.
Blind Chance portrays this type of world where secret police take people away in the middle of the night, party men act in bad faith in an effort to both survive and maintain power, and the country grows increasingly unstable all the while.
The story follows a young man Witek (Bogusław Linda) who’s on a plane and screams “No!” before the movie cuts to a POV of a young child sitting between his mother’s legs as he watches an orderly drag a bloody body across the floor; an image that’s increasingly cut back to throughout the film. We then meet Witek as a medical student, who starts dating a woman named Olga (Monika Gozdzik). However, after his father dies, Witek loses faith in his career and decides to drop out, running to catch a train which he grabs just in time after bumping into a man with a beer.
Similar to Sliding Doors (1998; of all movies), it’s this train sequence that will kick off three different versions of Witek’s life which led to his death in the airplane. On the train, Witek meets an elderly ommunist Werner (Tadeusz Łomnicki) who recruits Witek to the party, soon meeting his first love and anti-communist Czuszka (Bogusława Pawelec) who soon learns Witek’s part of the resistance. Witek attempts to win her favor by visiting a sit-in at a local hospital where the members plan to burn it to the ground; thwarted by Witek and the partrymen who instead send Witek on a secret mission to France which is canceled at the last minute.
The second scenario involves Witek slamming into the man with the beer back at the train station, running off and then slamming into a rail guard and knocking him over; missing the train as a result. He’s sentenced to community service where he soon joins an anti-communist group and meets up with some old friends from childhood; later becoming a devout Christian - something we don’t often associate with the anti-authoritarian resistance. At one point, when he starts sleeping with his old friend Weva, she asks if truly believes the cause. With full and absolute conviction, Witek says he does. Trying to run away to France, Witek applies for a passport which is rejected due to his anti-communist ties. The party offers to grant it so long as he provides his fellow member’s location. The next day, he’s dragged over to the barracks, finding everyone gone and the place ransacked; his friend Daniel suspicious of what Witek offered.
The third and final scenario involves Witek bumping into the man with the beer, but instead of ignoring the collision, turns around and apologizes, again failing to catch the train. Witek returns home to Olga and resumes his medical studies, soon getting pregnant and later Witek takes up a job as a teacher. He refuses to join any political organization, going so far as to refuse to sign a petition brought to him by some students accusing the dean’s son of distributing illegal materials. The dean then offers Witek a trip to Libya who agrees, finding out moments before leaving that Olga is pregnant with another child, but when the plane takes off - returning us to the opening scene - it explodes and he dies.
It’s been almost three weeks since I’ve finished the film and unfortunately many of the details have been lost. Kieslowski’s mastery is in ensuring that every single moment remains as cinematic as possible; maximizing the frame and information to fully immerse us within the world. In dozens upon dozens of cutaways we see bits and pieces of information that all add up into creating beautiful scenes and a flawless narrative. Nothing is wasted. Even the tiniest details feel deliberate.
The ironic ending in having an apolitical Witek finally meet his fate prevents the film from ever soaring above politics. It has a position, but also shows the obstacles within each position. In scenario one he loses his first love for swearing loyalty to the party before her and yet survives.
In scenario two we see the complexity in the fight for freedom. When faced with escape, Witek both betrays his friends and his idol Jesus’ philosophy, but also survives. It’s when Witek does nothing and takes no position that he meets his ultimate demise. Kieslowksi doesn’t seem to be making any grand moral statement so much as showing the risk of inaction. Most won’t actually die, but some could, never living a life for anything beyond himself. Then again, up until Mitek’s life, he was living the life that most aspire to. Was that worth just a few more years versus surviving forever? Like his other great films, Blind Chance demands multiple viewings before ever offering the confidence to take a position; it’s that type of complex film where there’s just far too much to take in in a single sitting.
BELOW: Great score from Wojciech Kilar
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