Blind Chance

Kryzystof Kieslowski's Blind Chance tells three stories that imagine three different possible paths in a young man's life. The man is Witek (Boguslaw Linda, Man of Iron), a Polish medical student who has abandoned his studies in the wake of his father's recent death. He decides to board a train and go to Warsaw for a while. In the first story, he catches the train. In the second story, he misses the train, accidentally knocks over a police officer and gets arrested. In the third story, he misses the train and encounters an old friend. In each story, Witek's life takes a dramatically different path.

Chance and coincidence play a major role in much of Kieslowski's work, and Blind Chance (his fourth narrative feature) feels like the purest exploration of the director's belief that small gestures can impact our lives in significant ways. At the beginning of each story, Witek encounters the same two people as he's running towards the train: an elderly woman and a man drinking a beer. Sometimes he bumps into them, sometimes he runs around them, sometimes he makes them drop what they're carrying – he doesn't stop running, but these tiny alterations to his route and pace have a ripple effect that impacts his entire life.

Witek seems to be at a particularly vulnerable moment in his life, as his grief over his father's death leaves him open to new possibilities about what life really means and what's worth believing. In the first segment, he meets an elderly communist (Tadeusz Lomnicki, The Contract) on the train and subsequently decides to become a card-carrying member of the communist party. In the second segment, he joins the anti-communist resistance and decides to take up Christianity. In the third story, he decides to abandon ideology of any sort and avoids both politics and religion. These are not just important decisions, but the kind of decisions that define who a person is. Is our decision to be a Christian or an atheist or a conservative or a liberal so easily determined by chance, coincidence and circumstance? We all like to think that we have sound reasons for believing what we believe, but Kieslowski's film attempts to make the case that we are less in control of our fate than we would think – that we are living in a deterministic world which merely offers the illusion of free will.

The film was made in 1981 during a period of political transition in Poland, as the anti-communist trade union Solidarity was beginning its rise and as the communist government began preparing to implement martial law. The film was completed, but was censored by the government for years before finally receiving a release in 1987 (and even then, a number of scenes had been snipped from the movie, though most of those have been restored on Criterion's new home video presentation of the film). Blind Chance is simultaneously deeply political and apolitical, making sharp observations about the assorted belief systems depicted in the film while suggesting them none of them offer all of the answers required for personal fulfillment. The film's most beautiful scene takes place near the conclusion, as Witek sees something that has a profound impact on his view of life. It's this film's equivalent of the Duck Soup scene from Hannah and Her Sisters; a moment of transcendent understanding found in an unlikely place.

The film also marks a period of transition in Kieslowski's career, as the director began to move from documentary-style realism (an approach undoubtedly rooted in the fact that he began his career as a documentary filmmaker) into something more strikingly cinematic. While the visuals here aren't on par with the intoxicating imagery of something like The Double Life of Veronique or Blue, it's considerably more visually expressive and stylized than his earlier work. The music also plays a prominent role here, as a haunting theme by Wojciech Kilar appears over and over and over again, finding new resonance each time it appears depending on the situation we're in. Again: everything is the same, and everything is different.

Blind Chance is a fascinating construction (Run, Lola, Run is a shallower but more kinetic riff on this tale), but in truth, it's more absorbing to think about and discuss than it is to actually watch. While I find Kieslowski's later films to be spellbinding (and even entertaining) experiences, this one is a little less emotionally absorbing than his others. Linda's performance is soulful and persuasive, but his distraught presence isn't quite enough to prevent certain stretches of the movie from feeling a little dull. The film is a slow-burning, multi-layered build-up to a profound (and ultimately shocking) ending – in this case, the film's power is in the destination rather than the journey. Though not as immediately entrancing or consistently gripping as the director's best work, it's an ambitious film that ultimately rewards the viewer's patience.

Blind Chance

Rating: ★★ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 123 minutes
Release Year: 1987