Criterion Prediction #142: No End, by Alexander Miller
Title: No End
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Cast: Jerzy Radziwiłowicz, Grażyna Szapołowska, Artur Barciś, Maria Pakulnis, Artur Barcis
Synopsis: During a time when Poland was under martial law after the dissolution of their trade union solidarity, Ulla, a translator, mourns the recent death of her lawyer husband Antek a while struggling to care for their son. However, Ulla becomes involved with the Joanna Stach, the wife of her late husband’s client who is now in jail for political dissidence. While reconciling the loss of Antek, Ulla finds solace and closure in her involvement with this case as the ghost of Antek looms over.
Critique: While Kieslowski’s aesthetic would become more eloquent and romantic with the Colours Trilogy and The Double Life of Veronique, it’s his incisive and politically-charged earlier features that have the most resonance. The late auteur was thematically and aesthetically diverse. While his voice was socially and politically active, his cinema never devolved into trenchant mannerism. Throughout his career, his work was enlivened with stylistic panache.
With No End, Kieslowski delves into metaphysics, exploring a dual narrative that engages us with characters alive and dead, observing loss from a spiritual and legal point of view. At the front of the story, we have two women, who are suffering from the loss of their husbands. Ulla hurts from Antek’s death; Joanna, from Darek’s imprisonment. While there is emotional gravitas with Ulla’s grief, the bureaucratic hypocrisies that land Darek in prison for his role in a union strike are in some ways just as baffling and challenging as the nature of death. Kieslowski explores these avenues with an eye and ear for terse realism while evoking a mournfully spiritual frequency that acts as a conduit to the multi-layered stories. But his influence as a documentarian frames everything with an unembellished veneer; No End is uniquely distinguishing in that the film hovers with an air of mystic realism. Unlike noted “spiritual” artists a la Tarkovsky, Bresson, or Bergman, Kieslowski offers an allegorically and gritty variety of storytelling, he balances the real and transcendental with brilliant ease, and No End is a crucial converging point for his distinctive qualities.
No End would mark the first of many collaborations between Kislowski and composer Zbigniew Preisner, whose marvelous score evokes the dirgeful gregorian hymn “Dies Irae.” Cast members Jerzy Radziwiłowicz, Grażyna Szapołowska, Artur Barciś and Maria Pakulnis would be stock players in the director’s subsequent filmography.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: Back in 2015, when Criterion announced Blind Chance was getting a spine number, it felt as if we’d see the rest of the director’s earlier work follow suit; specifically, the titles featured in the now-OOP Kino Lorber collection. Aside from Blind Chance, and the extended Dekalog entries A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love (that are now in available on Criterion DVD/Blu-Ray), there’s The Scar, Camera Buff, and No End.
Before release, these were branded with the Criterion logo and were streaming on their now defunct Hulu channel; now, of course, these updated features are available on Filmstruck. While it feels wrong to complain, seeing as the amount of Kieslowski in The Criterion Collection has substantially grown, one can’t help but wonder why these movies aren’t getting a push into an official release?