STARTING out as an innovative, intellectual documentary filmmaker, Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski evolved into one of the great artists of the contemporary European cinema.
Kieslowski gained international prominence with his ``Decalogue,'' a series of 10 films based on the Ten Commandments made for Polish television. His ``The Double Life of Veronique'' made in France with French actors catapulted him to critical acclaim. ``Three Colours'' is a new series of films based on the colors of the French flag - blue, white, and red - symbolic of liberty, equality, fraternity. The first of these films, ``Blue,'' is an elegant, fully realized work of art - a mysterious investigation of the inner life of its heroine and a meditation on the nature of liberty.
Kieslowski is frequently cryptic in his responses to journalists, refusing to respond to questions about the meaning of a particular film. But in the fascinating new book, ``Kieslowski on Kieslowski,'' he reveals a little more of himself, and while his pessimism sometimes surfaces in odd, self-deprecating ways, the artist's warmth trickles through, too. The book is compiled from a series of interviews that the filmmaker had with Danusia Stok, who also edited the work.
Having attended Lodz Film School, Kieslowski later became a founding member of the Cinema of Moral Anxiety (1974-1980), a partnership that turned into lasting friendships with filmmakers who would later find international fame - Agnieszka Holland, Andrzej Wajda, Edek Zebrowski, and Krzysztof Zanussi. The Cinema of Moral Anxiety concerned itself with difficult moral issues affecting Poland - issues that were often socio-political.
But Kieslowski is not a political filmmaker. His brief involvement with politics, notably including a student uprising over the deportation of Jews from Poland in 1968, ended with the painful realization that he had done no good and that the compromises he made were being paid for by others. At one point, the police tried to frame him, claiming he had sold sensitive tape recordings to Radio Free Europe. They gave up the investigation. Later, during an episode of martial law in 1981, he obtained permission to film trials of dissidents. The camera had an unexpected impact on the proceedings: Judges did not want to appear ruthless, and sentences were light or dismissed altogether.
But in his documentaries, he was often able to slip reality by the censors. ``There was a necessity, a need ... to describe the world. The Communist world had described how it should be and not how it really was.''
Later, when he came to make ``Decalogue,'' he searched for ways to express the spirit behind the Mosaic law, reexamining the meaning of right and wrong. He even took up the meaning of sin - an unusual choice for a contemporary filmmaker. But what comes out of his musings is a profound sense of the importance of life and of individual action.
Throughout the book, Kieslowski's practical observations about filmmaking suggest a concern for young filmmakers, an acute mind, a somewhat sad disposition, and a profound skepticism that nevertheless cracks open in the face of art, revealing a man capable of brilliant insight and poetic vision. The language is sometimes halting because the book is based on interviews, so redundancies, skipping about in time, digressions, and all the problems associated with translation are here. Yet it is an engrossing read for film buffs, students, or anyone interested in the cultural history of Eastern Europe.