Kieślowski and a Storyteller’s Awareness of the Audience’s Attention

Krzysztof Kieślowski.  Image via .

Krzysztof Kieślowski.  Image via


This short interview with filmmaking legend Krzysztof Kieślowski has a lot to say, not only to filmmakers but to storytellers in any genre.  It references Blanc, the second movie in his famous Trois Couleurs trilogy.  Though it helps if you’ve seen the full film, one can actually intuit most of the insights through the images shown in this clip. 

Note especially his attention to an audience’s cognition, their ability to process images and ascribe importance to them according to hints they’ve received from the screen.  The analogs to other mediums are endless.

Thank you for reading.

Kieślowski's Wandering Man

The following reflection from Krzysztof Kieślowski about his ten-part television series The Decalogue has bounced around my mind since I read it last year.  

There’s this guy who wanders around in all the films.  I don’t know who he is; just a guy who comes and watches.  He watches us, our lives.  He’s not very pleased with us.  He comes, watches and walks on.  He doesn’t appear in number 7 because I didn’t film him right and had to cut him out.  And he doesn’t appear in film 10 because, since there are jokes about trading a kidney, I thought that maybe it’s not worth showing a guy like that.  But I was probably wrong.  No doubt I should have shown him in that one, too.
The wandering man of   Kieslowski's  Decalogue  series, portrayed by actor Artur Barcis, via

The wandering man of Kieslowski's Decalogue series, portrayed by actor Artur Barcis, via

The guy didn’t appear in the screenplays initially.  We had a very clever literary manager, Witek Zalewski, at the time in whom I had and still have immense trust and, when we’d written the Decalogue screenplays, he kept saying to me, ‘I feel there’s something missing here, Krzysztof.  There’s something missing. ‘But what, Witek? What do you feel is missing?’ ‘I can’t say, but there’s something missing.  Something’s not there in the scripts.’ And we talked, talked, talked, and talked and in the end he told me this anecdote about a Polish writer called Wilhelm Mach.  This Mach was at some screening.  And Mach says, ‘I liked the film very much.  I liked it and especially that scene at the cemetery.’ He says, ‘I really liked the guy in the black suit at the funeral.’ The director says, ‘I’m very sorry but there wasn’t any guy in a black suit.’  Mach says, ‘How come?  He stood on the left-hand side of the frame, in the foreground, in a black suit, white shirt and b lack tie.  Then he walked across the right-hand side of the frame and moved off.’ The director says, ‘There wasn’t any guy like that.’ Mach says, ‘There was.  I saw him.  And that’s what I liked most in the film.’  Ten days later he was dead.  So Witek Zalewski told me this anecdote, this incident, and I understood what he felt was missing.  He missed this guy in a black suit whom not everyone sees and who the young director didn’t know had appeared in the film. But some people saw him, this guy who looks on.  He doesn’t have any influence on what’s happening, but he is sort of sign or warning to those whom he watches, if they notice him.  And I understood, then, that that’s what Witek felt was missing in the films so I introduced the character whom some called ‘the angel’ and whom the taxi-drivers when they brought him to the set called ‘the devil’.  But in the screenplays he was always described as ‘young man’.
 Krzysztof Kieślowski
Kieślowski on Kieślowski (translated and edited by Danusia Stok), pp. 158-159

 Among other things, this reflection suggests how readily an audience will absorb even the subtlest hints from an artist. Kieślowski was a master of dropping such hints.  

A related observation:  An audience will allow the presence of open-ended questions, in this case, "Who is that guy who keeps showing up?"  Whether registered consciously or unconsciously by the audience, loose ends can point beyond the frame of a piece to suggest the larger dimensions of the artist's exploration.