Krzysztof Kieślowski

Krzysztof Kieślowski

Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1994
Born (1941-06-27)27 June 1941
Warsaw, Poland
Died 13 March 1996(1996-03-13) (aged 54)
Warsaw, Poland
Alma mater National Film School in Łódź
Spouse(s) Maria Cautillo (1967–1996; his death)

Krzysztof Kieślowski (Polish pronunciation: [ˈkʂɨʂtɔf kʲɛɕˈlɔfskʲi]; 27 June 1941 – 13 March 1996) was an influential Polish art-house film director and screenwriter known internationally for Dekalog (1989), The Double Life of Veronique (1991), and the Three Colors trilogy (1993–1994).[1][2] Kieślowski received numerous awards during his career, including the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize (1988), FIPRESCI Prize (1988, 1991), and Prize of the Ecumenical Jury (1991); the Venice Film Festival FIPRESCI Prize (1989), Golden Lion (1993), and OCIC Award (1993); and the Berlin International Film Festival Silver Bear (1994). In 1995 he received Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Writing.[3] In 2002 Kieślowski was listed at number two on the British Film Institute's Sight & Sound Top Ten Directors list of modern times.[4]

Early life

Photo of the house where Kieślowski was raised
The house at 23 Główna Street in Sokołowsko where Kieślowski lived

Kieślowski was born in Warsaw, the son of Barbara (née Szonert) and Roman Kieślowski.[5] He grew up in several small towns, moving wherever his engineer father, a tuberculosis patient, could find treatment. He was raised Roman Catholic and retained what he called a "personal and private" relationship with God.[6] At sixteen, he attended a firefighters' training school, but dropped out after three months. Without any career goals, he then entered the College for Theatre Technicians in Warsaw in 1957 because it was run by a relative. He wanted to become a theatre director, but lacked the required bachelor's degree for the theatre department, so he chose to study film as an intermediate step.


Leaving college and working as a theatrical tailor, Kieślowski applied to the Łódź Film School, the famed Polish film school which also has Roman Polanski and Andrzej Wajda among its alumni. He was rejected twice. To avoid compulsory military service during this time, he briefly became an art student, and also went on a drastic diet in an attempt to make himself medically unfit for service. After several months of successfully avoiding the draft, he was accepted to the Łódź Film School on his third attempt.

He attended from 1964 to 1968, during a period in which the government allowed a relatively high degree of artistic freedom at the school. Kieślowski quickly lost his interest in theatre and decided to make documentary films. Kieślowski also married his lifelong love, Maria (Marysia) Cautillo, during his final year in school (m. 21 January 1967 to his death), and they had a daughter, Marta (b. 8 January 1972).

Kieślowski retired from film-making with a public announcement after the premiere of his last film Red at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival.


Kieślowski's early documentaries focused on the everyday lives of city dwellers, workers, and soldiers. Though he was not an overtly political filmmaker, he soon found that attempting to depict Polish life accurately brought him into conflict with the authorities. His television film Workers '71, which showed workers discussing the reasons for the mass strikes of 1970, was only shown in a drastically censored form. After Workers '71, he turned his eye on the authorities themselves in Curriculum Vitae, a film that combined documentary footage of Politburo meetings with a fictional story about a man under scrutiny by the officials. Though Kieślowski believed the film's message was anti-authoritarian, he was criticized by his colleagues for cooperating with the government in its production.

Kieślowski later said that he abandoned documentary filmmaking due to two experiences: the censorship of Workers '71, which caused him to doubt whether truth could be told literally under an authoritarian regime, and an incident during the filming of Station (1981) in which some of his footage was nearly used as evidence in a criminal case. He decided that fiction not only allowed more artistic freedom, but could portray everyday life more truthfully.

Polish feature films

His first non-documentary feature, Personnel (1975), was made for television and won him first prize at the Mannheim Film Festival. Both Personnel and his next feature, The Scar (Blizna), were works of social realism with large casts: Personnel was about technicians working on a stage production, based on his early college experience, and The Scar showed the upheaval of a small town by a poorly-planned industrial project. These films were shot in a documentary style with many nonprofessional actors; like his earlier films, they portrayed everyday life under the weight of an oppressive system, but without overt commentary. Camera Buff (Amator, 1979) (which won the grand prize at the 11th Moscow International Film Festival)[7] and Blind Chance (Przypadek, 1981) continued along similar lines, but focused more on the ethical choices faced by a single character rather than a community. During this period, Kieślowski was considered part of a loose movement with other Polish directors of the time, including Janusz Kijowski, Andrzej Wajda, and Agnieszka Holland, called the Cinema of Moral Anxiety. His links with these directors (Holland in particular) caused some raised eyebrows within the Polish government, and each of his early films was subjected to censorship and enforced re-shooting/re-editing, if not banned outright (Blind Chance was not released domestically until 1987, almost six years after it was completed).

No End (Bez końca, 1984) was perhaps his most clearly political film, depicting political trials in Poland during martial law, from the unusual point of view of a lawyer's ghost and his widow. It was harshly criticized by both the government and dissidents. Starting with No End, Kieślowski's career was closely associated with two regular collaborators, the screenwriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz and the composer Zbigniew Preisner. Piesiewicz was a trial lawyer whom Kieślowski met while researching political trials under martial law for a planned documentary on the subject; Piesiewicz co-wrote the screenplays for all of Kieślowski's subsequent films. Preisner provided the musical score for No End and most of the subsequent films; the score often plays a prominent part in Kieślowski's films and many of Preisner's pieces are referred to within the films themselves. In these cases, they are usually discussed by the films' characters as being the work of the (fictional) Dutch composer Van den Budenmayer. Dekalog (1988), a series of ten short films set in a Warsaw tower block, each nominally based on one of the Ten Commandments, was created for Polish television with funding from West Germany; it is now one of the most critically acclaimed film cycles of all time. Co-written by Kieślowski and Piesiewicz, the ten one-hour-long episodes had originally been intended for ten different directors, but Kieślowski found himself unable to relinquish control over the project; in the end, each episode featured a different director of photography. Episodes five and six were released internationally in a longer form as A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love respectively. Kieślowski had also planned to shoot a full-length version of Episode 9 under the title A Short Film About Jealousy,[8] but exhaustion eventually prevented him from making what would have been his thirteenth film in less than a year.

Foreign productions

Kieślowski's last four films, his most commercially successful, were foreign co-productions, made mainly with money from France and in particular from Romanian-born producer Marin Karmitz. These focused on moral and metaphysical issues along lines similar to Dekalog and Blind Chance but on a more abstract level, with smaller casts, more internal stories, and less interest in communities. Poland appeared in these films mostly through the eyes of European outsiders.

The first of these was The Double Life of Veronique (La double vie de Veronique, 1990), which starred Irène Jacob. The commercial success of this film gave Kieślowski the funding for his ambitious final films, the trilogy Three Colors (Blue, White, Red), which explores the virtues symbolized by the French flag. The three films garnered prestigious international awards, including the Golden Lion for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival and the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin Film Festival,[9] in addition to three Academy Award nominations.


Kieślowski often used the same actors in key roles in his films, including:


Just under two years after announcing his retirement, Krzysztof Kieślowski died on 13 March 1996 at age 54 during open-heart surgery following a heart attack, and was interred in Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw. His grave is located within the prestigious plot 23 and has a sculpture of the thumb and forefingers of two hands forming an oblong space—the classic view as if through a movie camera. The small sculpture is in black marble on a pedestal slightly over a metre tall. The slab with Kieślowski's name and dates lies below. He was survived by his wife Maria and daughter Marta.


Bronze bust of Kieślowski
Bust of Kieślowski, Celebrity Alley, Kielce, Poland

Kieślowski remains one of Europe's most influential directors, his works included in the study of film classes at universities throughout the world. The 1993 book Kieślowski on Kieślowski describes his life and work in his own words, based on interviews by Danusia Stok. He is also the subject of a biographical film, Krzysztof Kieślowski: I'm So-So (1995), directed by Krzysztof Wierzbicki.

After Kieślowski's death, Harvey Weinstein (then head of Miramax Films, which distributed the last four Kieślowski films in the US) wrote a eulogy for him in Premiere magazine.[10]

Though he had claimed to be retiring after Three Colors, at the time of his death Kieślowski was working on a new trilogy co-written with Piesiewicz, consisting of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory and inspired by Dante's The Divine Comedy. As was originally intended for Dekalog, the scripts were ostensibly intended to be given to other directors for filming, but Kieślowski's untimely death means it is unknown whether he might have broken his self-imposed retirement to direct the trilogy himself. The only completed screenplay, Heaven, was filmed by Tom Tykwer and premiered in 2002 at the Berlin International Film Festival. The other two scripts existed only as thirty-page treatments at the time of Kieślowski's death; Piesiewicz has since completed these screenplays, with Hell — directed by Bosnian director Danis Tanović and starring Emmanuelle Béart — released in 2005. Purgatory, about a photographer killed in the Bosnian war, remains unproduced.[11] The 2007 film Nadzieja (Hope), directed by Ibo Kurdo and Stanislaw Mucha, also scripted by Piesiewicz, has been incorrectly identified as the third part of the trilogy, but is in fact, an unrelated project.[12] Jerzy Stuhr, who starred in several Kieślowski films and co-wrote Camera Buff, filmed his own adaptation of an unfilmed Kieślowski script as Big Animal (Duże zwierzę) in 2000.

Photo of Kieślowski's grave
Kieślowski's grave

In an interview given at Oxford University, Kieślowski said the following:

It comes from a deep-rooted conviction that if there is anything worthwhile doing for the sake of culture, then it is touching on subject matters and situations which link people, and not those that divide people. There are too many things in the world which divide people, such as religion, politics, history, and nationalism. If culture is capable of anything, then it is finding that which unites us all. And there are so many things which unite people. It doesn't matter who you are or who I am, if your tooth aches or mine, it's still the same pain. Feelings are what link people together, because the word 'love' has the same meaning for everybody. Or 'fear', or 'suffering'. We all fear the same way and the same things. And we all love in the same way. That's why I tell about these things, because in all other things I immediately find division.[13]

In the foreword to Dekalog: The Ten Commandments,[14] American filmmaker Stanley Kubrick wrote:

I am always reluctant to single out some particular feature of the work of a major filmmaker because it tends inevitably to simplify and reduce the work. But in this book of screenplays by Krzysztof Kieślowski and his co-author, Krzysztof Piesiewicz, it should not be out of place to observe that they have the very rare ability to dramatize their ideas rather than just talking about them. By making their points through the dramatic action of the story they gain the added power of allowing the audience to discover what's really going on rather than being told. They do this with such dazzling skill, you never see the ideas coming and don't realize until much later how profoundly they have reached your heart.

Stanley Kubrick January 1991[15]

Sight & Sound magazine conducts a poll every ten years of the world's finest film directors to find out the Ten Greatest Films of All Time. This poll has been conducted since 1952, and has become the most recognised poll of its kind in the world.[16] In 2012 [17] Cyrus Frisch voted for "A Short Film About Killing". Frisch commented: "In Poland, this film was instrumental in the abolition of the death penalty."

Since 2011, Polish Contemporary Art Foundation "In Situ" organizes a film festival in Sokołowsko, where Kieślowski spent a part of his youth. The annual "Sokołowsko Film Festival: Hommage à Kieślowski" commemorates the director's work. It is an interdisciplinary event, where screenings of his films are accompanied with creative workshops, panel discussions, performances, exhibitions and concerts.[18]


Documentaries and short subjects

Feature films and TV drama

Awards and nominations

Kieślowski's star on the Walk of Fame in Łódź
Kieślowski's star on the Walk of Fame in Łódź, Poland

Krzysztof Kieślowski earned numerous awards and nominations throughout his career, dating back to the Kraków Film Festival Golden Hobby-Horse in 1974. The following is a list of awards and nominations earned for his later work.[3]

A Short Film About Killing
The Double Life of Veronique
Three Colors: Blue
Three Colors: White
Three Colors: Red


  1. Stok 1993, p. xiii.
  2. "Krzysztof Kieślowski". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 19 May 2012.
  3. 1 2 "Awards for Krzysztof Kieślowski". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 19 May 2012.
  4. "Sight & Sound | Modern Times". BFI. 25 January 2012. Retrieved 9 September 2012.
  6. Holden, Stephen (5 August 1998). "Krzysztof Kieślowski: I'm So-So...". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  7. "11th Moscow International Film Festival (1979)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 3 April 2014. Retrieved 2013-01-18.
  8. Bernard, Renata; Woodward, Steven, eds. (2016). Krzysztof Kieslowski: Interviews. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1626745749.
  9. "Berlinale: 1994 Prize Winners". Berlinale. Retrieved 30 December 2011.
  10. Harvey Weinstein, In Memoriam – Krzysztof Kieślowski, Premiere, June 1996. Retrieved 19 January 2012
  11. Goodman, Lanie (14 April 2006). "Lanie Goodman meets director Danis Tanovic". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  12. Bradshaw, Peter (18 April 2008). "Hope (Nadzieja)". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  13. Abrahamson, Patrick (2 June 1995). "Kieślowski's Many Colours". Oxford University Student. Retrieved 19 May 2012.
  14. Kieślowski, Krzysztof; Piesiewicz, Krzysztof (1991). Decalogue: The Ten Commandments. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-0571144983.
  15. "Kubrick on Kieślowski". Visual Memory. Retrieved 19 May 2012.
  • Amiel, Vincent (1995). Kieślowski. Paris: Editions Payot and Rivages. ISBN 2-86930-992-9.
  • Andrew, Geoff (1998). The Three Colours Trilogy. London: BFI Publishing. ISBN 0-85170-569-3.
  • Attolini, Vito (1998). Krzysztof Kieślowski. Taranto: Barbieri. ISBN 88-86187-34-3.
  • Bleeckere, Sylvian de (1994). Levenswaarden en levensverhalen: een studie van de decaloog van Kieślowski. Leuven: Acco. ISBN 90-334-2852-0.
  • Campan, Véronique (1993). Dix breves histoires d'image: le Decalogue de Krzysztof Kieślowski. Paris: Presses de la Sorbonne nouvelle. ISBN 2-87854-041-7.
  • Coates, Paul (1999). Lucid Dreams: The Films of Krzysztof Kieślowski. Wiltshire: Flicks Books. ISBN 0-948911-63-8.
  • Dalla Rosa, Richard (2003). La fascination des doubles: selon La double vie de Véronique de Krzysztof Kieślowski. Sarreguemines: Edition Pierron. ISBN 2-7085-0307-3.
  • Dzieko'nska, El'zbieta (2002). The best of all worlds: public, personal and inner realms in the films of Krzysztof Kieślowski. London: University of London (PhD Thesis).
  • Enser, Martha (1995). Krzysztof Kieślowski: das Gesamtwerk. Wien: Universitat Diplomarbeit.
  • Erbstein, Monika. Untersuchungen zur Filmsprache im Werk von Kryzstof Kieślowski. Alfeld: Coppi Verlag. ISBN 3-930258-57-9.
  • Esteve, Michel, ed. (1994). Krzysztof Kieślowski. Paris: Lettres Modernes. ISBN 2-256-90934-4.
  • Franca, Andrea (1996). Cinema em azul, branco e vermelo: a trilogia de Kieślowski. Rio de Janeiro: Sette Letras. ISBN 85-85625-51-1.
  • Fritz, Heiko (2004). Was von der DDR bleibt oder die produzierte Geschichte mit einem Blick auf das filmwerk von Krzysztof Kieślowski. Oldenberg: Igel Verlag. ISBN 3-89621-178-1.
  • Furdal, Malgorzata, ed. (2001). Remembering Krzysztof: il cinema di Kieślowski. Udine: Centro espressioni cinematografiche; Pordenone: Cinemazero.
  • Furdal, Malgorzata, Turigliatto, Roberto, eds. (1989). Kieślowski. Torino: Museo nazionale del cinema.
  • Garbowski, Christopher (1996). Krzysztof Kieślowski's Decalogue series: the problem of the protagonists and their self-transcendence. Boulder: East European Monographs. ISBN 0-88033-349-9.
  • Haltof, Marek (2004). The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieślowski: Variations on Destiny and Chance. London: Wallflower Press. ISBN 1-903364-92-2 (hbk) ISBN 1-903364-91-4 (pbk).
  • Insdorf, Annette (2002). Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieślowski. New York: Hyperion Miramax Books. ISBN 0-7868-8474-6.
  • Jazdon, Mikolaj (2002). Dokumenty Kieślowskiego. Pozna'n: Wydawnictwo Pozna'nskie. ISBN 83-7177-022-7.
  • Kickasola, Joe (2004). The Films of Krzysztof Kieślowski. London: Continuum. ISBN 0-8264-1558-X (hbk) ISBN 0-8264-1559-8 (pbk).
  • Kieślowski, Krzysztof (1998). Przypadek i inne teksty. Kraków: Znak. ISBN 83-7006-702-6.
  • Kieślowski, Krzysztof Piesiewicz, Krzystof (1999). Raj, czyś'ciec, pieklo: [three novels in one case]. Warsaw: Skorpion. ISBN 83-86466-30-8 (vol 1) ISBN 83-86466-31-6 (vol 2) ISBN 83-86466-32-4 (vol 3).
  • Kieślowski, Krzystof; Piesiewicz, Krzystof (1991). The Decalogue: The Ten Commandments. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-14498-5.
  • Kieślowski, Krzystof; Piesiewicz, Krzystof (1998). Three Colours Trilogy. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-17892-8.
  • Lagorio, Gina (1992). Il decalogo di Kieślowski: ricreazione narritiva. Casale Monferrato: Piemme. ISBN 88-384-1634-6.
  • Lesch, Walter; Loretan, Matthias, et al. (1993). Das Gewicht der Gebote und die Moglichkeiten der Kunst: Krzysztof Kieślowskis Dekalog Filme als ethische Modelle. Freiburg, Schweiz: Universitatsverlag; Freiburg: Herder. ISBN 3-7278-0910-8 (Univerlag) ISBN 3-451-23275-8 (Herder).
  • Lubelski, Tadeusz, ed. (1997). Kino Krzysztofa Kieślowskiego. Kraków: Universitas. ISBN 83-7052-926-7.
  • Murri, Serafino (1996). Krzysztof Kieślowski. Milan: Il Castoro. ISBN 88-8033-061-6.
  • Rimini, Stefania (2000). L'etica dello sguardo : introduzione al cinema di Krzysztof Kieślowski. Napoli: Liguori. ISBN 88-207-2996-2.
  • Ripa di Meana, Gabriella (1998). La morale dell'altro: scritti sull'inconscio dal Decalogo di Kieślowski. Firenze: Liberal libri. ISBN 88-8270-009-7.
  • Rodriguez Chico, Julio (2004). Azul, Blanco, Rojo : Kieślowski en busca de la libertad y el amor. Madrid: Ediciones Internacionales Universitarias. ISBN 84-8469-111-X.
  • Simonigh, Chiara (2000). La danza dei miseri destini: il Decalogo di Krzyzstof Kieślowski. Torino: Testo and immagine. ISBN 88-86498-90-X.
  • Spadaro, Antonio (1999). Lo sguardo presente : una lettura teologica di "Breve film sull'amore" di K. Kieślowski. Rimini: Guaraldi. ISBN 88-8049-166-0.
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  • Termine, Laborio (2002). Immagine e rappresentazione. Torino: Testo and immagine. ISBN 88-8382-081-9.
  • Wach, Margarete (2000). Krzysztof Kieślowski: kino der moralischen Unruhe. Köln: KIM; Marburg: Schuren. ISBN 3-934311-06-7 (KIM) ISBN 3-89472-360-2 (Schuren).
  • Wilson, Emma (2000). Memory and Survival: The French Cinema of Krzysztof Kieślowski. Oxford: Legenda. ISBN 1-900755-27-0.
  • Wizner, Dariusz (2002). Stile cinematografico di Krzysztof Kieślowski. Roma: Universita Pontificia Salesiana. Thesis.
  • Wollermann, Tobias (2002). Zur musik in der Drei Farben: triologie von Krzysztof Kieślowski. Osnabrück: Epos Musik. ISBN 3-923486-38-3.
  • Woodward, Steven, ed. (2009). After Kieślowski: The Legacy of Krzysztof Kieślowski. Detroit: Wayne State UP. ISBN 978-0-8143-3326-6.
  • Zawiśliński, Stanislaw, ed. (1996). Kieślowski: album pod redakcja Stanislawa Zawiślińskiego; teksty [by] Krzysztof Kieślowski ...[et al.]. Warsaw: Skorpion. ISBN 83-86466-11-1.
  • Žižek, Slavoj (2001). The Fright of Real Tears: Krzysztof Kieślowski Between Theory and Post-Theory. London: BFI Publishing. ISBN 0-85170-755-6 (hbk) ISBN 0-85170-754-8 (pbk).
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