Thursday, September 07, 2006
No End is Krzysztof Kieslowski’s first collaboration with Krzysztof Piesiewicz,the screenwriter who would work with Kieslowski through the end of his life and on the Colors Trilogy as well as Dekalog. It is also the first of Kieslowski’s collaborations with composer Zbigniew Preisner, who also worked on the aforementioned films. As No End begins we are overlooking a city in Poland as Preisner's score plays in the background. The score is ominous and weighted. Already we know that we are about to see something profoundly sad.
The first words of the film come from Antek who is sitting in the bedroom while his wife is asleep in the bed behind him with their son. He informs us that he died four days ago but he is sitting right there in front of us talking. Throughout the remainder of the film we see Antek from time to time, and when we don't see him his spirit is felt by the viewers and more deeply by the characters in the film.
The film focuses primarily on Ulla, who has been widowed. Antek was a lawyer who fought very hard for the causes of Solidarity and the minority party in Poland. The film is set in 1982, Poland is still a communist country. Antek was highly regarded by many others for his work in the resistance to the Communist regime, and at the time of his death was working on numerous cases. While Antek's influence hovers over one case in particualar and over his lawyer mentor it is Ulla who obviously feels his lost most deeply.
One morning Ulla makes two cups of coffee out of habit, and pours one into the sink after realizing what she's done. Later on she allows a man whose hands are like Antek's to purchase her a drink. She sleeps with him, but leaves immediately after telling him in Polish all about her loss and love for Antek. The man does not speak Polish. She drops her son off at school and sits on a bench, and we see Antek beside her, yet she can not.
The film has similarities to Kieslowski's later work Bleu, in that we are taken very deeply into a world of sorrow of a woman who has been widowed. In Bleu we see the woman try to dissappear for a while. In No End we see the woman picked up for a while, at least by those aligned with the cause her husband fought so bravely for. We can't point towards actual moments of dialogue, but it's clear that Ulla's involvement in one case that her husband left behind is what is keeping her going. The relationships pale in comparison to her sorrow for her loss of Antek, but thet are all she has, and they keep her on her feet and moving. Still, she can not entirely escape her sorrow.
And here comes a spoiler about the ending, so read no further if you want to see this.
Ulla eventually drops her son off with her mother, after the case her husband left behind has been decided. She comes home, covers the vents and takes tape to her mouth as she turns on the gas stove and is ready to take her own life. Again then we see Antek. He only says "Hello." We see them then walk out of the room, initially holding hands briefly, before seperating and just walking side by side together as Preisner's score plays again.
Everybody had problems with this movie, and the ending. It was not liberal enouh for the left, it was too liberal for the left. And of course, the Catholic church did not like the allusion to suicide. It's no wonder that after this when Kieslowski turned his attention to the Dekalog and Colors trilogy he made the Colors trilogy especially independendent of political leanings and the Dekalog with unique looks at the Ten Commandments.
To me, Kieslowski is almost a saint of cinema. Every once in a while I remember he is dead and we won't see any new films from him. And when this happens I am saddned for days on end. It sounds ridiculously mellodramatic, but it's true. And this film was a perfect example of why I feel how I do about his films.
I will not pretend to understand how a film which deals entirely with a widow and her profound sense of loss, then ends with a suicide rises above all of this and somehow becomes a beautiful life affirming piece of art. But, in the end this is what has happened. The marraige of Ulla's sorrow to her husbands cause carried her along for a while when she couldn't carry herself. And while her sense of loss is so deep she wants to end her life we can't fault her. When Antek says hello we feel something entirely different than we felt just moments before when we saw her preparing to take her life. We still have deep sorrow, this remains one of the more profoundly sad films I have ever seen. But the final scenes take it beyond that again to seeing value in life and love. And, honestly, I can't think of any other story tellers than Kieslowski and Piesiewicz who could pull this off.