Polish Cinema: The Calm (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1980, Poland)

  Yet another early entry into Kieslowski’s Cinema of Moral Anxiety, The Calm (Spokoj) was shot in 1976, but not released in Poland until 1980. Based on a collaboration between Kieslowski and Polish author and journalist Lech Borski, the TV film was conceived as a vehicle for the great actor Jerzy Stuhr. It marked the beginning of a long collaboration between Kieslowski and Stuhr, who would go on to collaborate on the films Camera Buff, The Scar, and Three Colors: White. 

The titular “calm” in the film is what our protagonist Antek Gralak (Stuhr) seeks in his life. He has just been released after serving a three year sentence, and is seeking to put his life back together. His needs are simple - TV, a wife, children - but as in most films from Kieslowski, even the simplest needs are not so attainable. Antek’s reintegration into society is disrupted when he becomes involved in a strike between the workers on his construction team and the management. This conflict will end up having disastrous consequences. Notably, The Calm was the first time a strike was shown on Polish television, and it is difficult not to view the film within the political realities in Poland at the time of its release.

While Kieslowski’s cinematic voice here is still in its incipient stages, he is nevertheless in the process of fine tuning it. While there is a “kitchen sink” and almost documentarian style to the proceedings - the film is an incredible record of Polish working class life in the 1970s - there are stylistic flourishes, including a symbolic vision of horses that occurs in the finale of the film. And while there are certain elements of the film which are specific to communist Poland, there are also plenty of elements of the story which are universal in nature, and still timely even in 2021.



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