Krzysztof Kieślowski – I’m So-So (1995)

Denmark/Poland, 1995
Running Length: 0:56
MPAA Classification: No MPAA Rating (Nothing offensive)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Cast: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Director: Krzysztof Wierzbicki
Producer: Karen Hjort
Cinematography: Jacek Petrycki
Music: Zbigniew Preisner
In Polish with subtitles
On March 13, 1996, the self-effacing Polish film maker, Krzysztof Kieslowski, died of heart failure in a Warsaw hospital. The film world mourned, especially when it was revealed that Kieslowski, who had been retired since the completion of Red in 1994, was contemplating a return to work with a new trilogy of films about heaven, hell, and limbo. What we are left with in the wake of the director’s passing, however is an extraordinary résumé that includes such memorable features as Camera Buff, Decalogue, The Double Life of Veronique, and the Three Colors trilogy (Blue, White, Red). Less than a year before his death, Kieslowski agreed to be the subject of a short documentary by his long-time assistant, Krzysztof Wierzbicki. The hour long film, which was made for Danish television, featured Kieslowski’s recollections of his life and movies, along with several candid shots of the director relaxing and enjoying his retirement. What was initially intended as a fairly inconsequential interview unwittingly turned into a remarkable tribute.
Does I’m So-So offer any new insights into the director’s psyche? It does, even for those who have poured over his autobiography, Kieslowski on Kieslowski. During the course of one hour, there’s hardly any topic that goes untouched by Kieslowski, which speaks highly not only of the subject of the film, but of the interviewer, Wierzbicki. Kieslowski has always shunned the spotlight (preferring to “sit in a dark room and smoke”), so it’s a credit to this film’s director that he was able to present such a candid and moving portrait.
Kieslowski confesses that because he knows Wierzbicki (as well several other men in the crew), “We can discuss… meaningful and personal topics.” He goes on to talk about, in some detail, his philosophy of documentary film making. After saying that he made documentaries — movies about “people who lead real lives” — to describe the world that we live in, Kieslowski goes on to reveal a series of stringent guidelines that he followed. For example, he believes that everyone is entitled to their privacy and certain things should not be photographed for the screen. “Can you film a real death and use it as a documentary?” he asks. It’s meant to be a redundant question.
Admitting that he turned the camera on himself in every picture that he made (like the protagonist in Camera Buff at the movie’s end), Kieslowski never saw himself as anything more than a film director with a bleak view of the world. “I have only one good characteristic. I’m a pessimist… The future is a black hole.” He also doesn’t claim to have the answers to the questions posed by his films, saying that “Knowing is not my business, not knowing is.” And he indicates that he believes all interpretations of his films to be valid, stating that he made movies so that everyone could take something different from them.
I’m So-So presents a broad overview of Kieslowski’s career, zeroing in on a few select films for more in-depth discussion. These are: 1980’s Talking Heads (“an experiment”), 1976’s The Calm, 1979’s Camera Buff (“the film shows the camera’s power”), 1981’s Blind Chance, 1988’s Decalogue (“we wanted to brush up those 10 well- written sentences”), and 1994’s Red. At one point, Kieslowski also reveals that he once met an Italian man who had experienced something very similar to the story presented in The Double Life of Veronique.
The title comes from Kieslowski’s belief that people should not lie about how they’re feeling just for the sake of polite conversation. As a result, when someone asks him how he’s doing, instead of replying “Well” or “Very well”, he says “I’m so-so.” In truth, however, there’s nothing “so-so” about this particular motion picture. Krzysztof Kieslowski: I’m So-So is a striking picture of an extraordinary man who made some of the most powerful films of the last two decades. This movie will live alongside the director’s body of work as an important and informative companion piece.
© 1997 James Berardinelli