Blind Chance (1987)

Directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski

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Blind Chance shows us how little we are in control of our own lives, no matter what we may think.  The movie is composed of three alternate realities, depicting three possibilities of what happens to Witek when he does or doesn’t catch a departing train.

Early on the film is lathered in jarring, out of context imagery and a heavy operatic score that makes it seem like we’re all doomed.  It created to me the sense of falling in slow motion, like the silhouette in the Mad Men opening credits.  We may claw, scratch and grab at anything around us in an effort to exert control, but we are just free falling.

In each of the three vignettes we soon follow, Witek will find his life set on a dramatically  different trajectory, not just in terms of what happens to him but also in how he defines himself.  Things he might consider deeply rooted in his psyche, in his essence, are shown to be quite whimsical.

In one reality he will join the Communist Party, and this will kill a budding romance with an old girlfriend.  In the second he will join the anti-Communist movement, and in the third he makes it a point to stay out of the political conflict.  In each case his decision-making process has nothing to do with the alternate realities we are privy to.  He makes choices based only on his circumstances and impulses he surely can’t understand.  Each time he thinks he has solid reasons for doing what he does, but we are allowed to see how fickle each of these decisions truly is.

Similarly, in the second vignette he will be baptized and develop a faith in God.  In the third vignette he scoffs at the notion of God.

Each story concerns not only Witek’s connection to (or distance from) the conflict between the Communist Party and the anti-Communist movement, but also a romantic relationship.

In the first story Witek becomes involved with his “first love,” a woman participating in the anti-Communist underground community.  One day they are stopped by the police, and she is arrested for not being a member of the party while he’s free to walk away.  Later she will use this as a reason to break up with him.

In the second he develops a relationship with the sister of a childhood friend, and it’s his relationship with her that gets in the way of his anti-Communist dealings.  While he is with her, the bunker out of which he and his friends worked is ransacked, and the only remaining member not put in jail suspects Witek was involved in the attack.

Like with the first story, there is a conflict between Witek’s political point of view and his romantic relationship, one getting in the way of another.

In the third story Witek runs into Olga, an old friend from medical school, and they immediately begin a relationship.  Witek decides to return to practicing medicine, and he similarly commits himself to Olga and the family they start together rather than to get involved in any political affairs.

In the first two stories the relationship ends because of the conflict they have with where he lines up politically.  In the third story his relationship flourishes as he specifically avoids committing to one side or the other.

The final similarity between all three stories is a flight to Paris.  The first story ends at the airport when the group with whom Witek is traveling has their passports held up as part of an airport employee strike.  In the second his passport is denied because of his hand in anti-Communist activism.  In the third story he finally makes it onto the plane to Paris… and then the movie ends with the plane exploding.

So Blind Chance paints several portraits of a doomed Witek.  No matter what happens, no matter how he may seem to flourish, he is doomed.  There is no fate unless it’s a tragic one, I suppose.

Witek is dramatically different in each of the three stories despite having lived the first 30-ish years of his life the same way.  One small moment, making or not making the train, leads him down three dramatically different paths with dramatically different ways of looking at the world.

And yet, each one ends with some degree of failure.  He must watch a budding romance wither, his underground community dry up and in the final story, his life end.  It’s a bleak depiction of life in Poland in this time period, though it may be up to the viewer to decide how much this has to do with politics.

The government seemed to think it had a lot to do with politics, understandably considering how much of a focus there is on Communists and anti-Communists.  The film was shot in 1981 but not released for another six years.

From where I sit, the political strife certainly seems to contribute to Witek’s fate, but the third storyline suggests, at least textually, that he was doomed regardless of political affiliation.  I do suppose that Witek’s third story implies that he was doomed because of his connection to this place, to Poland and thus to the ways it is intrinsically tied to its own political volatility.

From a technical standpoint, Blind Chance has a lot of long, quiet scenes of dialogue.  There are moments of intimacy between Witek and his romantic interest, and there are long conversations about the things that we think define us.  These are conversations about God, politics and where we come from (parents and family, for example).  The characters express a point of view about what defines them and us, but because of the dramatic differences between Witek’s three realities, I think we are meant to find fault in the conclusions they come to.  There is beauty in their attempt to understand, but ultimately they are a bit misguided.

In these conversations there are often very few cuts.  In some cases the shots are deceptively long, thanks to the ways the characters move and the camera reframes them.  In a single shot you might have three or more set ups.  An example is this 4 minute scene (which I’ve sped up 10x) at around 36 minutes into the film…

Up Next: Five Easy Pieces (1970), Predator (1987), Clean, Shaven (1993)

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