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photography and film – facts, ideas, values

FILM A first viewing of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colours Trilogy


These remarks and those in Kieslowski posts to come are best addressed to someone who has already seen the films. If you haven’t, it might be better to do so before having your viewing experience ruined by these ruminations, which let slip here and there details you might prefer to watch first.


The package came in the last post before the weekend: accidental, fortuitous, perfect timing.  When the cellophane sleeve came off and the four disks* were laid bare, it was obvious – knowing something about Three Colours – there might be a delicious prevarication (a) over whether to watch them in the order most people do and (b) one after another in quick succession or with sufficient gaps – days even – to let each one soak in.

* Number four in this Artificial Eye set includes a 1994 Documentary, I’m So-So, by Krzysztof Wierzbicki {1} {2} , in which you see Kieslowski smile. I have wanted to know if he always kept a straight face since watching the interview he gave which came with the Artificial Eye two disk set of The Double Life of Veronique: the film that was my introduction to Kieslowski. A few commenters have suggested I’m So-So doesn’t tell you much, but I think it does. If you think you might be into Kieslowski, don’t skip it.   I won’t give away what the title is about, except to say my version is “As well as can be expected under the circumstances.”


Some might chose Decalogue first, but I felt, on balance, watching the ex-Poland films first, then some of the earlier Polish stuff, might be more instructive. Maybe it doesn’t matter either way. Decalogue was, if my memory serves me well, shown on British TV some years ago, and I think I saw one or two, which I found a bit heavy going, despite Decalogue being generally considered his masterpiece. In any case,  watching Kieslowski as a film student might ( Amator next….), whether I enjoy his films is irrelevant.  And of course, it can be a pleasure to watch a film without the subject matter being pleasurable. I want to know how he made them, why he made them, what it took to do it, and why he is considered a master.


After watching Blue,  I felt it such an impressive film it would be a kind of sacrilege to watch one of the others until the buzz wore off.   In any case, thinking and reading about Blue afterwards took so much time, it was the next day before White.  Having watched White, it seemed a good idea to have kept it separate from Blue by a day. After White, which did not hold me as much as Blue,  I did not feel the same inclination to wait for Red, watching it the same evening. After Red,  I wished I had left it to another day! (For the re-match, it seems as if it might be Blue followed by Red and then White.


There are many reviews and essays on Three Colours. This by Paul Newall is good, as is Reading Three Colours:Blue by Richard Rushton in Senses of Cinema. There is long academic paper by Tammy Clewell, The Shades of Modern Mourning in Three Colours Trilogy, which is not my favourite type of reading, but there are snippets here and there on various themes within mourning, which can be useful.

Wiki:Krzysztof Kieślowski gives the background.


Sculptor: Krzysztof Bednarski


The web is full of Kieslowski, so not too many links here, for those who might be coming to him, or like me, part of the way in. later, I might add a few more if I find any particularly good ones.

Senses of Cinema: Krzysztof Kieslowski by Doug Cummings has a long profile on Kieslowski, with an annotated filmography

An interview with Kieslowski which covers Three Colours. It is not clear who the interviewer is or whether this is a transcript from a filmed interview.


After some posts on watching Three Colours a second time there will one or more on Amator, or in its English rendering, Camera Buff.  There will be a good set of links to Amator because this is a film not much watched and which few would probably chose to buy if they were collection Kieslowski: it’s considered to be a weaker specimen of the species.  I haven’t watched Amator – on its way – but in debates with others about the nature of film and in particular the ins and outs of videoing someone you know in detail, it has come up as a way of helping to examine questions such as whether making a documentary of someone is by its nature exploitative and /or manipulative. I have already posted on Operation Filmmaker, a film by Nina Davenport, but have not really exhausted my thoughts on what that film might tells us about documentary: might bring some of it into the Amator post.

November 15, 2008 Posted by | film [its techniques], Krzysztof Kieślowski | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Documentary film “Operation Filmmaker”: Muthana Mohmed meets Antoine Doinel

Storyville ran Operation Filmmaker, a documentary by Nina Davenport on BBC4 recently. Some clips in YouTube and elsewhere. It appealed to me because it was about a young Iraqi man: I lived in Baghdad in the 1950s.

After watching Operation Filmmaker I ran through my thoughts and immediately wrote them down: on the film itself and documentary as a genre. Then I checked for information on what happened to the star of the story and started to read the reviews.

The film has been played elsewhere as can be seen from the Operation Fimmaker website, and there are many reviews which can be accessed from the site.

A review  Everything Is Deracinated: Nina Davenport’s “Operation Filmmaker” in IndieWire by Michael Koresky [June 1, 2008]

John Power’s audio review on NPR is particularly good.

An article with more of  Nina Davenport’s views:

Nina Davenport on Operation Filmmaker in The Lumiere Reader

Two interviews with Nina Davenport:

(1) The Strand Magazine (U. of Ontario)


After watching the documentrary I had an overweening desire to write to Nina to ask what she had been paid to film Muthena, whether she was paid right through to the end for her own expenses or whether it transmuted into a production company (the film goes out under her as ‘director’) which she had to finance, and how much was doled out to Muthena over the course of the film in money and kind. Near the end, just before Nina decides to cut her losses, he demands $10,000.

This makes me wonder exactly how much such a project involves. Did Muthena gradually become aware of the amounts, which made him feel he should benefit financially as well. When he does ask for his money, it did seem he was asking the question, How much do you want to make this movie? Although in the finished film Nina Davenport  is heard and even seen trying to persuade him to carry on, she already has quite enough to make a film.

In the end, being cut short before the natural ending is as good an ending as one could wish for, simply because at this length the viewer is thoroughly engaged and begins to feel there will be a finale. There is no post-script. Not a person watching this film is not expecting one which will say what happened to Muthena.

Before Nina decides to stop filming, Muthena progressively sees and asserts on camera he is being made to look bad and is not keen on being filmed any more. This is true: he is behaving badly and he is shown to be. He says he is not interested in money and wants to be a free spirit. Though he is obviously seen (and depicted) as more than half pillock*, by this stage, his demand for money did not seem unreasonable to me. He’s the star of the documentary. They are going to make money out of it, why shouldn’t he?  Why didn’t Nina or someone mollify Muthena by offering him a cut of the royalties? If you’re doing cinematographic reflexivity, then why not include the dosh side as well. Professional films are made with money and for money. The one thing that didn’t come out of the final edit was what he was learning about that side of film-making.

Indulge me. After putting aside the notions of what this documentary said to me about film, I had a sudden flash of Antoine Doinel.


Muthena Mohamed


became Antoine Doinel.  One of the great facilitators of film discussion is youtube clips! You can go off on an Antoine Doinel track right here if you wish, but please come back.

Cutting to the quick: at first Antoine came to mind, as this afterthought, through looks and mannerisms: trying to be cool and knowing but usually coming out as a bit of an arse. Running rapidly through the permutations, it seemed unlikely that Muthena knew The Adventures of Antoine Doinel” series, but it also seemed almost inconceivable Nina Davenport had not, as a film student, studied Truffaut and Godard. The end of the finished film, Operation Filmmaker – the edited film as opposed to the filmed film, perhaps – seemed to have a nouvelle vague-ish quality. Maybe every documentary since the 60s has been squeezed through the cinematographic sieve of Godard’sÀ Bout de Souffle { Film blog, Everyday Cinephile, has a great still of Belmondo and Seberg and has a good summary}. Then again, maybe because the image of Muthena as Antoine is stuck in my mind and tickles my fancy, maybe I am forcing the notion into a film which does not possess it. Or is is that all documentaries that aspire to art, become nouvelle vague documentary style by default.

It is a bit more complicated than just Muthena = Antoine. After all, Operation Filmmaker is a documentary and Trauffaut’s Antoine series are fictions (even if based on the life of Truffaut). If you know Truffaut, you know Jean-Pierre Léaud is reputed to have got a bit mixed up as to whether he was the actor Jean-Pierre Léaud or character Antoine Doinel.  Operation Filmmaker is a documentary about Muthena: there is the obvious sense that Muthena is becoming a character in a film in the documentary his is in, and he’s progressively aware of it. To me, Nina Davenport is a chronicler to start with, (In this YouTube she says she was a camera for hire) but then slowly changes into the director of the film: she is perfectly aware this is happening, as is her subject. Even the edit (wouldn’t we like to see all the video she shot….) could not disguise how much she was in the end fashioning a film, which is fascinating for someone interested in film-making.

One of the side issues is that Muthena fancies himself an actor as well as a Hollywood director. He is good at playing to the camera whether to charm or in expressing his feelings. This person almost trying to burst out of the confines of film gets built into the shooting process.

What happened to Muthana? He has a 5 year permit to stay in the UK. No news of whether he persisted in film.

*Pillock is an English English expression for “A stupid or annoying person”

November 9, 2008 Posted by | documentary, film [its techniques] | , , , , , , | Leave a comment