Combustible Celluloid
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With: Boguslaw Linda, Tadeusz Lomnicki, Zbigniew Zapasiewicz, Boguslawa Pawelec, Marzena Trybala, Jacek Borkowski, Jacek Sas-Uhrynowski, Adam Ferency, Monika Gozdzik, Zygmunt Hübner, Irena Byrska
Written by: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Directed by: Krzysztof Kieslowski
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Polish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 123
Date: 01/14/1987

Blind Chance (1981)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Time Lapse

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I first heard about Krzysztof Kieslowski's Blind Chance (1981) at some point in the 1990s, when movies like Pulp Fiction, Sliding Doors and Run Lola Run began playing around with alternating timelines. (Also, remember that the year Pulp Fiction came out, Kieslowski was being celebrated in the U.S. for his Three Colors trilogy, and especially Red, which would turn out to be his final film.) But, to the best of my knowledge, Blind Chance wasn't available to see here at that time, and indeed, it hadn't been released even in its native Poland until 1987. But now the Criterion Collection has given it a striking new Blu-ray release, with most of its censored scenes restored (although one scene in particular apparently couldn't be rescued).

It begins with a series of images, flashes really. They are disconnected, but they are the things that will remain constant as we see Witek (Boguslaw Linda) go through three alternate storylines. In the first, he races for a train, barely catches it, and meets an old Communist on board. He decides to become a Communist himself, rekindles an old romance with his first love, and ends up involved in a tense demonstration in a hospital.

In the second, he barely misses the train, crashes into a policeman and is arrested. He is given community service, and while digging in the dirt, he finds a "time capsule," a bottle with a note inside about how the future is going to go. He meets an old friend and the friend's pretty sister, becomes baptized as a Christian and joins an anti-Communist resistance. In the third, he misses the train but does not get arrested. He decides to go back to medical school (in the other segments, he dropped out after the death of his father). He's a success, marries and has children, and finally gets on a plane, which brings us full circle, back to the shocking first image.

Many small themes recur, such as the idea that Witek seems trapped, never able to get anywhere, which is usually related to the existence of an airplane mechanic. But the most striking differences are the ideals Witek comes to hold: Communist, religious, and then, capitalist (more or less), all separated by the tiniest, most inconsequential incident. Maybe these ideals aren't as important or as concrete as they seem, the movie seems to suggest.

Yet I couldn't help feeling that being an American in 2015 did not give me the best advantage in understanding all of this material. Clearly, many of these concerns were things that Kieslowski himself was dealing with at a certain point in Poland's history. But I was impressed at how tightly coiled the movie is, how it sticks to realism and lives in each individual moment, while the bigger story looms quietly overhead. Kieslowski may have adapted his themes to a more universal canvas with The Decalogue and the Three Colors trilogy, but Blind Chance seems somehow a purer expression of self.

Criterion's Blu-ray is seamless in restoring the lost scenes; there is no dip in quality. The picture has a warm texture, and the soundtrack is uncompressed. Extras include a lengthy analysis by Polish film critic Tadeusz Sobolewski, a short interview with filmmaker Agnieszka Holland, a friend of Kieslowski's who was shown the initial rough cut, and a demonstration of the restored scenes. The liner notes booklet has an essay by critic Dennis Lim, and a 1993 interview with the director.

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