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Kieslowski’s genius : Tracing back ‘12B’ to ‘Sliding doors’ to ‘Przypadek’

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both.
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth

Its a grave irony that I want to discuss a movie about chance, but I start with a poem which is about choice. The above poem, The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, is one which all of us face in our everyday life. Choices that are left to us and what considerations we take in making the right decision. The poem is not just about a road, thats just metaphorical for life. At every step we have a difficult decision to make; be it home, be it workplace. And we always leave behind an untreaded path, hoping that someday we would comeby it again. Somehow I believe that even if we get a chance to revisit the path, 99 out of 100 times, we would end up making the same choices that we made the last time around. Because man is a born free but bound everywhere by chains, we are slaves of the situation we are put in.

Kaminey too had this angle where Shahid mutters about how life is made/unmade not by what path we take, but by what we leave behind. That may or may not be true, but that’s how life is; always giving us choices.

But, what happens when life does not give us that choice? What happens when destiny takes its own course? When we are left with ‘no choice’ but to go with whats offered to us. That’s the tricky situation that Witek is stuck in Przypadek[Blind Chance]. When God makes the decision, we only have to bear the brunt of it or fightback the situation which was not of our making to begin with. Witek fights the battle, goes against odds and does what best he can do. Does it all turn out good for him? Does he come out unscathed and bitterless? Thats for you to watch.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

In 2001, Jeeva directed a movie 12B starring Sham and Jyothika. The movie starts with Shakti preparing to attend a job interview. While Shakti is at the bus stop, waiting for the bus number 12B, destiny has other plans for him. He spots a charming girl, forgets all about the interview and starts pursuing her. Its obvious that he misses the bus. Is this going to be a life altering turn? Well, the director takes us through parallel series of events which shows us how Shakti’s life turns out having missed the bus; and having taken the bus and attended the interview.

The guy who attends the interview, gets the job and an affable co-worker who ends up liking him. But Shakti is miffed with life because he could not get close to the girl whom he had spotted in the bus-stop. And the guy who misses the bus arrives late to the interview and finally lands up in a small time job at a garage. But he gets the girl of his dream, she loves him too. Will either of the turn of events change his life? A very interesting premise indeed.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

But it comes undone when we realise that the movie was plagiarized. Just 3 years prior to this movie, came Sliding Doors in 1998. Gwyneth Paltrow’s character Helen is caught in a dichotomy. The movie begins with her being fired from a job. And here’s where the movie separates into two parallel worlds. One in which she misses the train in the tube station on her way home and other in which is makes it to the train.

Both scenarios have different outcomes and with their own set of complications. In the situation where she misses the train, she calls for a cab and while boarding in her purse gets snatched. She gets injured in her struggle to get back the purse and she finally lands in a hospital. This entire string of events gives her boyfriend enough time to fool around with another woman.

Had she not missed the train, she would have reached home in time and would’ve caught her boyfriend with his pants down, literally. This is shown in another sequence of events. And this is how the movie unfolds. Drawing parallels between the two lives separated by chance, where voluntary actions find no meaning as the characters are situation-driven. The bitter/sweet experiences of Helen is shown in both scenarios, the laughter and tears, romance and separation.

The movie was nominated in quite a few awards category, but many were unaware of the fact that the concept of the movie has actually been lifted from a Polish movie. In early 80’s, Kieslowski made a fantastic movie titled Przypadek.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Kieslowski handled a complex socio-political environment under the times of a totalitarian regime. He had the guts and gumption to fight the system and talk about it through his films. And another masterstroke was the fact that this movie had a 3-way sequence unlike Sliding Doors and 12B which handled just two. The very fact that he placed his hero, Witek, right in the center of a melting-pot situation speaks volumes about his conviction.

The movie actually tells the story of a strict communist regime through Witek. By taking Witek, played superbly by Boguslaw Linda, through three different paths, Kieslowski gives out the message that no one could’ve escaped brushing against the system. This political message is handled with subtlety where Witek, a medical student who is supposed to be apolitical, still gets embroiled in the affairs of the state and in different capacities.

Witek is made to face the system, first as a political activist who joins the communist party. This happens when he catches the train and meets an old war-horse of the commies. He sympathises with the ruling party and feels that as a youth its his responsibility to join the party and spread the message of communists. His girlfriend isn’t happy with this, but he has applied already.

In another scenario, Witek bumps into a beer-drinking guy and is unable to catch his train. He gets into a fight with the police and is sentenced to community service. This drives him against the system and now he joins the anti-Communist party. So, now he faces the brunt while fighting against the system.

In the third and final scenario, Witek misses the train and goes back home with his girlfriend. He is happily married, settled and teaching medicine. He is truly unpolitical until a situation comes up in the college where he is forced to take sides. But does he?

The fantastic part of the movie is the climax. The build-up is superb, and in all three scenarios Kieslowski shows the hand of God in the end. Although the three situations were poles apart, the end is however the same. Whether Witek catches/misses the train, destiny follows him nevertheless. His final outcome, irrespective of the situation he is put in, is the same. What is that outcome? What is does destinty hold for Witek? Do watch the movie to know more.

Kieslowski’s genius lies in the fact that he made a movie on the concept of parallel worlds when all of Poland was gripped in the non-republic regime. And his movie speaks of those times, tackling the very issues through a visual medium. His protagonist gets a chance, not a choice though, to revisit the same point from where his life takes a crucial turn; thereby partially fulfilling Robert Frost’s words of taking the untreaded path. While other movies like Run Lola Run, Sliding Doors etc have been made on this concept, they fail to deliver a punch. The movies have either become a rom-com or a thriller or candyfloss, none of the writer/director explored the opporunity to go beyond the obvious. This is where Kieslowski’s efforts are to be appreciated, for having thought of this concept in 1980’s, while the next movie based on this concept came a good decade and a half later, taking wholesome inspiration from Kieslowski.

This post was first published on PFC

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Posted by on March 23, 2010 in movies, world cinema


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