After several failed attempts at entering the prestigious film school in the industrial city of Łódź, Kieślowski was eventually granted a place in 1965. Dabbling in both fiction and documentary during his studies, Kieślowski graduated a dedicated factual filmmaker in 1968. His diploma film, the 17-minute black and white Z Miasta Łodzi (From the City of Łódź), is the first of the 13 films on the DVD. Set partly inside one of Łódź’s large textile factories as well as in the city’s numerous streets and parks, the film shines a peculiar and enchanting light on daily life in the city. Opening with an exemplary young girl worker clambering on a table to lead the daily factory exercises, Z Miasta Łodzi splices together various images of Łódź with ordinary scenes from the factory floor in which the filmmaker reveals the warmth and compassion behind a humdrum industrial existence. Kieślowski rapidly found a home at the Warsaw Documentary Film Studios, and was soon testing the limits of Socialist film censorship.
Poking his camera into the previously unrecorded worlds of eccentrics, institutions and incompetent bureaucracies, his protagonists included disillusioned bricklayers, surgeons, teenage parents, blind war veterans and, in what rates as one of the most disturbing yet hilarious documentaries ever made, a night porter (From a Night Porter’s Point of View, 1977). In the latter the camera follows its sadistic subject about his daily life as he harasses everyone he comes in contact with, from scolding young lovers in the park to checking the permits of a group of harmless fishermen. A clever metaphor for the state intrusions and assaults of the time, the director fought against and lost the broadcast of the film on state television for fear of the reprisals it might bring against its central character. Complete with a booklet in English with background information about the films, the selection may not be the best 13 of the 22 documentaries Kieślowski made during his career (the omission of his 1971 masterpiece Before the Rally being the most obvious oversight), but as a record of Poland at the time, and as a body of great work in its own right there’s nothing else that even touches this truly remarkable DVD. Highly recommended. Krzysztof Kieślowski Polska Szkoła Dokumentu 4hrs, colour/B&W Polish with English subtitles Available in most larger branches of EMPiK