No End (1985)

Krzysztof Kieslowski descends farther into the mysterious and ethereal with No End. Where Blind Chance transitioned him into more abstract filmmaking, it’s No End that establishes what direction he is going in. Everyday reality is no longer enough, it’s the exploration into what lies beyond that, how people are connected and where they might end up that Kieslowski explores.

For Antek Zyro (Jerzy Radziwilowicz), his existence does not end with death. He lingers on Earth, observing his wife, Urszula (Grazyna Szapolowska), and son, Jacek (Krzysztof Krzeminski). No one can see him, in fact, people feel his absence even as he occupies the same room as they do. Yet this is not a tale of the dead. Antek has left an important political case in his death and it’s up to his wife to decide what to do with it.

No End encapsulates almost everything that Kieslowski would come to do with the rest of his career. Thematically, the roots of his most famous works can be traced here. The idea of loss and the lingering presence of the dead is an element Kieslowski returns to again and again. The setting in the courtroom is a recurring place in his later films, in part because this is his first film with co-writer and lawyer Krzysztof Piesiewicz who he would partner with on all his remaining projects.

But even beyond that, there are so many little things placed here and there that Kieslowski will return to. There’s a judge whose about to go into retirement who could well be the same retired lawyer of Three Colors: Red. One of the lawyers makes a throwaway line about a smuggling case, which could hint at Three Colors: White where the main character is smuggled in a case. A cup of coffee becomes of interest to one of the characters, like a similar cup of coffee fascinates the protagonist of Three Colors: Blue.

But enough of its relationship to Kieslowski’s overall body of work, what sets this film apart is the fascinating idea that the dead in some way could watch over us after our death. Kieslowski, being who he is, quickly finds a way to pervert this by suggesting that sometimes our grieving process is actually an embarrassment to the dead, something we would be ashamed of if we knew the dead could see us.

Yet in this way, Kieslowski crafts a dramatic and emotional tale. He goes to some dark and obscene places and we find that there is no way for real reconciliation. Kieslowski could have suggested the presence of the dead needed something to move on, that perhaps he couldn’t leave until the case was done, but he doesn’t feel the need to give answers or any kind of catharsis. In fact, by constructing this idea of silence observance after death, the film practically ensures the fact that there can be no resolution.

I suppose, for most, this is where Kieslowski’s films become difficult and perhaps even frustrating. Up to this point there’s been some kind of resolution of events, but now Kieslowski embraces the idea that there is no ending. Perhaps this is a comment on his worldview or perhaps he simply isn’t interested in making conclusions anymore. It’s this that separates him from a majority of filmmakers because he actively perpetuates loose ends.

And yet of these ambiguous later films, No End is perhaps the clearest (with the arguable exception of Three Colors: White). The existence of Antek is clear, the conflict is equally clear but the resolution is ambiguous. Continuing on, Kieslowski will muddle the rest. Conflicts will become unclear and even existence will become a question mark as Kieslowski tries to understand its nature. Therefore, it’s fitting that the title of this film is No End because from this point on Kieslowski does his best to provide just that.

© 2010 James Blake Ewing