Polish Cinema: Face to Face (Krzysztof Zanussi, 1968, Poland)

Face to Face is a short 1968 television film directed by Krzysztof Zanussi. Of the same Polish filmmaking generation as Kieslowski, Zanussi got his start directing short films beginning in the 1950s. He made over a dozen short films before directing his excellent debut feature The Structure of Crystal in 1969. Of all the Polish auteurs, Zanussi perhaps took the most influence from his neighbor to the north - Ingmar Bergman. Zanussi adopts that director's spare, austere style, and also his fixation on deep philosophical questions.

Face to Face opens with a man's face in bed - this is our protagonist Kozlowski (Piotr Pawloski). Kozlowski lives in an apartment with his wife and dog in a city, and Zanussi initially walks us through his morning routine. While in the bathroom, Kozlowski looks out to the inner courtyard of his building. He soon sees a man on the roof who seems to beat to death another man and then begins making his escape by scaling down the building. Rather than intervene, our protagonist simply watches. It's unclear what precisely is happening, although the psychology of the film recalls the studies that took place in the 1950s and 1960s about the "bystander" effect - the unwillingness of observers to get involved.

At a certain point, Kozlowski seems to make eye contact with the man scaling down the building, but he closes the window. When Kozlowski leaves his building, he sees a crowd has formed and a man is being carried out on a stretcher. Face to Face is a cryptic film that leaves more questions than answers. While it is perhaps not as forceful as it needs to be in its philosophical inquiry, the film is nevertheless an interesting exercise and one worth visiting for fans of Zanussi or fans of Polish cinema more generally.



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