It's a rare situation. At a time when Hollywood dominates box-office sales as tenaciously as ever, many American moviegoers are lining up for a picture called ``Red,'' which was made in France by Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski, and tells a story that's as mysterious as it is engrossing.
One reason for this is Mr. Kieslowski's lofty reputation. This is based on such respected works as ``The Double Life of Veronique,'' a moody tale of linked personalities, and ``A Short Film About Killing,'' which explores contemporary violence.
``Red'' gains additional allure from its position at the end of ``Three Colors,'' a three-part series named after the colors of the French flag. The first part, ``Blue,'' explores the nature of freedom through the experiences of a woman whose husband has recently died. The second part, ``White,'' is a dark comedy about a disgruntled Pole who decides to exploit his country's new capitalism as greedily as any rat-racer on the scene.
``Red'' returns to the seriousness and sense of enigma that made ``Blue'' one of Kieslowski's most talked-about works. Irene Jacob and Jean-Louis Trintignant play a young student and an aging judge whose lives come together when she rescues his dog after an auto accident. Also present in the story are a newly accredited lawyer and his girlfriend, whose lives seem to run parallel with those of the other characters.
As a longtime admirer of Kieslowski's filmmaking, which combines great technical skill with a boldly poetic sensibility, I sought the director out for an interview during last spring's Cannes International Film Festival, where ``Red'' had its premiere. We spoke on a yacht in the Old Port of Cannes.
Since the most striking trait of Kieslowski's best features is their highly intuitive quality, often steering away from standard narrative logic, I started by asking what motivates his interest in hard-to-grasp ideas, events, and relationships.
``I'm a rather rational being, actually,'' he answers with a smile. ``I judge situations, I try to draw conclusions. But this rational way of looking at things does not exclude ... looking to the interior of the human being. And the interior of a human being is full of mystery, full of things that are not expressed or said, full of intuitions, and full of fear.''
Films like ``Red'' and ``The Double Life of Veronique'' focus not only on interior lives, but also on links between individuals that don't make sense in ordinary ways. Isn't this an unusual subject for a filmmaker to pursue?
``That is true,'' Kieslowski responds. ``It's more usually a subject for literature ... Dostoevski, Camus, Shakespeare, whomever you like. It is normally limited to the realm of words, not the realm of image, which is much more primitive, concrete, and direct. That is why this film should not have been done. But taking this [subject] that seems impossible, I tried to make a film that was possible.''
Pressed for more information on why he undertakes such challenges, instead of spinning more ordinary tales with more conventional styles, Kieslowski gives another of his sardonic smiles and turns to practical considerations.
``This is my job, my profession,'' he says, ``and the only one I know.... But to tell you the truth, it's very boring, so I try to find something in it that is interesting, or at least interests me when I have to wake up in the morning at 6 o'clock. Of course, you take risks when you do this, so I'm full of fear when I start!''
Once committed to this approach, is the working process very intuitive, or must it have many rational elements?
``On one hand it's very intuitive,'' Kieslowski says, ``but there comes a point when you have to be very rational.... It is imagination that is intuitive - kind of a feeling, or even a premonition. But afterward, there is a [movie] set, and there are people on the set who have to act.... You have to pay someone to put film in the camera.... So what appears at the beginning as just a feeling or premonition, has to become concrete.''
Throughout the process of conceptualizing and realizing a film, Kieslowski never allows himself to forget that its ultimate destination is a theater screen. ``I think about the audience practically all the time,'' he acknowledges.
This raises the question of what effect he wants to have on spectators. Is he more interested in pleasing and entertaining them, or in stimulating and even provoking them?
``I want to talk with them, that's all,'' the filmmaker responds. ``I don't want to provoke anyone. I don't want to stimulate anyone. I don't want to learn. I don't want to teach. I just want to talk!''