Polish Cinema: Personnel (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1975, Poland)

  Krzysztof Kieslowski’s first narrative feature, Personnel (Personel) finds the great Polish auteur in a transitional stage between his earlier fly-on-the-wall workplace documentaries and the “Cinema of Moral Anxiety” of his Polish features. Though made for Telewizja Polska on a shoestring budget and clocking in at a mere 67 minutes, Personnel nevertheless made a splash upon its release, winning recognition from international film festivals. While Personnel feels somewhat slight in comparison to Kieslowski’s other films, it nevertheless is an auspicious and deeply personal debut.

The film concerns Romek, played by Juliusz Machulski, an idealistic young man who takes up an apprenticeship as a tailor for the Wroclaw opera. Romek’s trajectory mirrors Kieslowski’s own, as the director got his start working as a technician in the theater. It is clear that many of the figures to whom Romek is introduced at the opera are not actors at all, but in fact real technicians. In shooting, Kieslowski allowed the actual workers to go about their daily routines, and he captures a charming authenticity and realism through clearly improvised conversations. 

This being a Kieslowski film, eventually a conflict arises between an older tailor (Sowa) and a prima donna soloist (Siedlecki). The conflict – initially over an ill-fitted costume – comes to show the broader tensions that exist at the opera between the performers and technicians. Kieslowski is presenting the opera as a metaphor for Polish society. When Sowa has an outburst about the overall state of their theater – that it is rotten, nobody comes anymore, and it doesn’t appeal to anyone – one gets the sense that he could equally be talking about the People’s Republic. While this metaphor might be too on the nose, Kieslowski ends the film masterfully with a Faustian bargain. A party apparatchik offers Romek career advancement if he condemns Sowa, and Kieslowski ends before showing us Romek’s decision.



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