Blind Chance (1981) begins with its multi-destined protagonist Witek (Bogusław Linda) seated on an airplane and releasing a protracted scream of terror. The camera enters Witek’s gaping mouth and seems set to plummet down his throat. Into his soul? It’s not merely a poetic query. This film marks a turning point in the filmography of Krzysztof Kieślowski, a filmmaker whose spiritual views seem agnostic at best, but whose interest in inner life and metaphysics—which would come to full fruition in The Double Life of Veronique (1991) and the Three Colors trilogy (1993 – 94)—begins in earnest with this meticulously structured drama, a garden of forking paths that follows young Witek as he journeys through three disparate possible lives.
Two of these lives will find Witek on opposing sides of Poland’s political schema, which might suggest that the thesis of Blind Chance is that personal convictions are malleable, even meaningless—the outcome of Witek’s entire adult life is determined by whether or not he catches a train, the image of him running along the platform is the image of a man rushing toward his own formation. But one of the elements that makes this film so remarkable, and so cohesive, is that whether Witek finds himself a communist apparatchik or a dissident activist, some essential self dictates his actions. By which I mean that however radically different his life choices are, Witek always seems like the same guy. So perhaps Kieślowski’s invasive camera is indeed searching for a soul—and finding it, over the following two hours.
Criterion is releasing Blind Chance next Tuesday and it’s a welcome addition to what will hopefully be an ongoing catalogue of Kieślowski titles. (They’ve already released the aforementioned Veronique and Three Colors in superb packages.) The film is supplemented by, among other items, a very good essay by Dennis Lim and a hugely informative interview with Polish film critic Tadeusz Sobolewski, who contextualizes Blind Chance not only with regards to Kieślowski’s life and work but also the political fluctuations that initially facilitated and then suppressed the project. Kieślowski began production during the solidarity era, enjoying a new dearth of censorship; he completed the film shortly after Poland was placed under martial law and though Blind Chance was ready for release in 1981, the Polish government held the film until 1987. Thus this meditation on chance was itself dictated by chance. V